At 75, trumpeter Enrico Rava, Italy’s most famous jazz musician, has a new band. Over the years, Rava ensembles have introduced young Italian musicians who have gone on to important careers, like trombonist Gianluca Petrella and pianists Stefano Bollani and Giovanni Guidi. All three of Rava’s new sidemen could join this list: subtle bassist Gabriele Evangelista, volatile drummer Enrico Morello and, most notably, guitarist Francesco Diodati.
Rava has rarely worked with a guitarist, and it is striking how a guitar changes the atmosphere of a Rava ensemble. There is much more open space. Diodati does not so much accompany Rava as array shifting backgrounds containing strands of independent thought and pools of light. Rava is clearly inspired. The opening piece, “Diva,” is introduced by Diodati’s resonant sustains and Evangelista’s slow, intermittent bass. Rava is willing to be one more hovering voice. His lines are like no other trumpeter’s. He thinks in seemingly autonomous fragments, but then finds relationships among them and juxtaposes them into large designs. The next track, “Space Girl,” is also mysterious and rapt, an insistent melody within which Rava finds revelatory variations. Diodati’s solo is an obsessive circling that he strums his way out of. “Sola” and “Overboard” reveal how Rava and Diodati together can expand a simple melodic figure into an encompassing sonic domain.
Most of the other tracks are short, and bring in trombonist Gianluca Petrella, a longtime Rava collaborator. Rava loves to duel with him, in loose unisons and cacophonous contrapuntal joint ventures. But collective improvisation, exciting when used judiciously for contrast, is limiting when it is overdone. It precludes the strong soloists here from truly soloing. It prevents Rava from fully exploring the potential of his new relationship with Diodati. Petrella is one of the best trombonists in jazz, but this album would have been more interesting without him.