This date features Enrico Rava’s working unit of the last two years, which becomes a quintet with the addition of Gianluca Petrella, trombonist in the Rava quintet that recorded Easy Living (2003) and The Words & The Days (2005), arguably Rava’s best work from a catalogue that now numbers more than 40 titles recorded since the early 70s.
In his own group, Indigo 4, Petrella plays trombone with subtle looping and effects, honing a new edge on music that’s otherwise rooted in the jazz ‘tradition’ of Ellington, Monk and Sun Ra. This respectful modernism makes him an ideal foil to the worldly lyricism that’s characteristic of Rava’s playing. Their relationship comprehensively outshines the fleeting but much-touted association of Rava with American trombonist Roswell Rudd in the late 70s, when both came together in Steve Lacy’s orbit (Rudd featured on Enrico Rava Quartet (ECM 1978)).
Also notable is the presence of electric guitarist Francesco Diodati, the guitar being another instrument that Rava often deploys in order to contrast, emphasise and enhance the qualities of his own sound (cf Rava’s Electric Five (Soul Note, 1995) – a sextet date featuring two guitars).
After the mixed blessing of 2012’s On the Dance Floor, a live album devoted to the music of Michael Jackson, it’s great to hear Rava back to what he does best on Wild Dance, surrounded by a simpatico and road-tested band, recorded in a Udine studio with ECM’s Manfred Eicher handling production, achieving the sort of superbly clear and lucent sound that characterises his own best work.
The Wild Dance songbook has ten new Rava compositions plus one piece, “Overboard”, that was first heard on Electric Five and two others from Rava’s back catalogue: “Diva” from Opening Night (ECM 1982), and “Infant” from Animals (Gala Records 1987). There’s also one improvisation, so titled.
The intro and outro to Rava’s “Infant” is clearly derived from Ornette Coleman’s “Enfant”, but the body of the piece, which only runs to three minutes, slips into unexpectedly moody territory quite at odds with Coleman’s clipped and compacted impetus, though it works beautifully, a taste of the neo-noir vibe that Rava’s group subsequently give themselves up to fully on the ravishingly wistful “Sola”. The expressive, plaintive quality of Rava’s sound on this piece is devastating, and Diodati’s gentle acoustic guitar accompaniment at the conclusion is a lovely touch.
“Not Funny” stays with the blue/bruised mood of “Solo”, “Happy Shades” returns again to Coleman’s influence, and Rava’s devotion to the lyricism of Miles Davis is always palpable. The leader’s vintage (he was born in Trieste in 1939, and started out playing Dixieland trombone before discovering Davis and the ‘new thing’) carries immense authority with insouciant lightness; witness “F Express” and “Cornette”, which blend chromatic guitar with sprightly bop rhythmics. Also witness the spry “Monkish”, which opens up for Petrella like a flower for a pollinator.
On bass and drums, Morello and Evangelista are superb throughout, making the uptempo numbers like “Cornette” snap and bounce while gently bolstering more introspective tunes like “Overboard”. Rava last reprised that tune on Tati (ECM), a 2005 trio date with Stefano Bollani and Paul Motian. Bollani’s puckish energy and humour offset some of the shadow-hugging noir in Rava’s harmonically incisive style, so the absence of his piano is as notable as the presence of trombone and guitar. This album highlights the dualities in Rava’s style that ECM’s press notes pinpoint: “lightness and intensity,” and “elegant cool and emotional warmth.”
“Improvisation”, the penultimate track, is gorgeous and contemplative, focused on a ruminative, deeply felt but probing solo from the leader, emotionally astute as ever. “Frogs”, by contrast, is a brisk, snappy, supremely collectively melodic, and accommodating enough for Diodati, in particular, to entwine the twin horns in exploratory harmonics.
All in all a beautiful album – a welcome return to peak form.
Enrico Rava trumpet; Gianluca Petrella trombone; Francesco Diodati guitar; Gabriele Evangelista double bass; Enrico Morello drums.
Buy Wild Dance direct from ECM.