The Italian trumpet player recorded this set in concert at the Rome Auditorium with the Parco della Musica Jazz Lab, an ensemble featuring two trumpet/flugelhorn players, trombone/tuba, alto saxophone/flute, tenor saxophone/clarinets, two keyboardists, bass, electric guitar, drums, and percussion. The arrangements are all by the Lab’s trombonist, Mauro Ottolini.
Enrico Rava has made for ECM some of the finest chamber jazz albums you could wish to hear. These include Easy Living (2004), by a quintet featuring the pianist Stefano Bollani; Tati (2005), a trio with Bollani and the late percussionist Paul Motian; and New York Days (2009) by another quintet featuring Bollani, Motian, and Fly‘s Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier; all on ECM; all superb.
Perhaps that long association explains why ECM have put out this curiosity. It begins well enough, with a subtle arrangement of “Speechless”; not the most obvious selection. And the bombastic “They Don’t Care About Us” is given a subtle reggae lilt, while Rava plays a really superb solo with even, perhaps, a bit more fire than usual. A gritty electric guitar riff signals a gear shift up into a tight, vigorous ensemble workout. So far so good. Then the problems set in.
Unless you hang in for the solos, faithful adaptations of “Thriller” and “Blood on the Dance Floor” evoke too many bad memories of those too-literal big band albums of the early 70s – Geoff Love and his Orchestra play James Bond, and the like. All rather embarrassing, really. “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” is subtle enough, but it segues into a stolid, crassly literal parp through “Smooth Criminal”.
The intro to “Little Suzie” (another eccentric selection – the original is pretty sappy, and creepy to boot) is picked out on toy piano, and a romantic arrangement frames a sequence of tasteful solos from Rava and other horns, but an incoming tide of big band smashes this moment to smithereens.
The only other tune not penned by Jackson (“Thriller” was written by Rod Temperton) is Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile” (Jackson’s cover version is, apparently, a HIStory-era rarity). Rava plays it beautifully, but the band bluster along on an intrusive electric bass line to the accompaniment of the kitsch swish of brushwork on cymbals, and then it turns really nasty.
But they save the worst, “History”, for last. The intro is played like a schmaltzy national anthem, and after that it’s all over the shop: a bit of swing, a glint of metal, a bit of easy listening; bleugh; enough already. Yes, the ensemble’s playing is spirited and every bit as well-drilled as Jackson’s bands must have been, so there will be an audience for this album, but I’d hope that that won’t be enough for anyone who’s likely to read this blog.
Enrico Rava – On the Dance Floor
Enrico Rava trumpet; The Parco della Musica Jazz Lab.