Enrico Rava and Joe Lovano’s Roma

cover artItalian jazz is a world all its own, one which I’ve only barely begun to explore. But even I know and love the great Enrico Rava, the 80-year-old flugelhornist and composer and eminence gris. In late 2018 he joined up for the first time with Joe Lovano, the respected American tenor player of Sicilian heritage, for a brief tour. Their date in Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica was recorded for this release, backed by Giovanni Guidi on piano and Americans Dezron Douglas on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums.

The program features only five pieces, all long works with lots of room for the players to stretch their ample improvisatory muscles. It opens with the 15-minute freely improvised Rava composition “Interiors,” a showcase for playing ranging from explosive to lyrical. Most impressive is Guidi’s lengthy solo. Next up is “Secrets,” another piece by Rava, just shy of 10 minutes long but with not a dull moment. It starts with a softly swinging rhythm behind Rava’s melodic exposition. Rava in particular is a force of nature, and Cleaver & Douglas never let up the pressure. Guidi has a lovely solo on piano, too, as he does on every track, and the way Rava slowly moves in on Guidi’s solo to pick up the tune and move its toward its coda is achingly beautiful, I think.

There follow two by Rava, the driving 24-bar blues “Fort Worth” and the openly improvised post-bop “Divine Timing.” The former is the high point of the disc for me, with the rhythm section constantly pushing the pace and Cleaver punctuates the turnarounds with explosive fills as Lovano, Rava and Guidi outdo each other with solos that run the gamut from bluesy to melodic to wildly freeform. I’m told there are specific references to Coleman and Redman on this one, but I’m not familiar enough with those Texas players to catch them. Yet.

I have to confess that Joe Lovano’s playing is a little over my head at this point, so he just hasn’t clicked with me, but maybe he will as I let this record seep in to my consciousness. But I haven’t yet found a way into “Divine Timing” for that reason.

However, the final medley is a thing of beauty, stringing together Lovano’s “Drum Song,” John Coltrane’s “Spiritual” and finishing up with a gorgeous, very openly improvised take on “Over The Rainbow” by Guidi. “Drum Song” features Lovano on the Hungarian tarogato, a curious instrument in the clarinet family. It eventually breaks into a swinging melody as Joe and Enrico’s lines twine around each other spectacularly and Cleaver basically solos constantly. I’m not at all familiar with Coltrane’s “Spiritual,” and the segue to it from “Drum Song” is so gradual that I don’t notice it except when Lovano switches to tenor somewhere around Guidi’s emotionally charged piano solo.

Rava and Lovano are solid, known quantities, and they don’t disappoint on this their first – and perhaps only – duo outing. That rhythm section is a real revelation, and Giovanni Guidi is obviously a rising star on the keyboard.

(ECM, 2019)

About Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.