Enrico Rava – Tribe (2011)

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On his last outing, trumpet master Enrico Rava was in a New York state of mind. This time, for Tribe, his head, heart—and most notably—his entire band is firmly back in his native Italy.

Rava is, as been mentioned here a time or two before, is a jazz superstar in Italy (and Europe in general). In a career that spans five decades, he has built a reputation mentoring under greats from outside his country, such as Steve Lacy and Don Cherry, and later bolstered his standing by in turn nurturing the talents of younger players (Stefano Bollani, Gianluca Petrella). No matter the setting—young up-and-comers, seasoned vets, or a mixture of both—Rava recordings have tended to excel lately. Tribe, his first small combo release since 2007’s The Words and the Days to sport an all-Italian line-up, and here again he introduces his latest finds, the twenty-six year-old pianist Giovanni Guidi and the twenty-three year old bassist Gabriele Evangelista. Petrella returns on trombone, as does Fabrizio Sferra on drums. Giacomo Ancillotto adds his guitar to a few tracks.

This is a program of seven originals and five covers…sort of. The five “covers” are Rava pieces previously recorded on earlier albums. Evidently, Rava felt that all the fresh faces in the band justified giving these old songs fresh treatments. But more so than that, the leader cedes the floor to his bandmates generously; that’s how confident and pumped up he is about playing with these younger musicians. Thus, Guidi gets a full-song showcase on “Garbage Can Blues,” where the horns sit out completely. His thoughtful, measured but sensitive approach here calls to mind Lyle Mays.

Petrella’s biggest moment in the sun comes on “Incognito,” which begins with only him and the sophisticated, understated drumming of Sferra. Petrella is, without using a lot of notes, very expressive in the manner of Roswell Rudd—a frequent musical partner of Rava’s in the past—and like Rudd, fits in nicely within Rava’s conception. He also works well with the leader, providing harmonic assists intuitively, as on “Amnesia.”

Focusing on Sferra, it’s not difficult to understand why he’s such a great fit in the band. Rava requires drummers who can play suspended rhythms and provide the shadings and colors that do as much to shape the sound as his tonal partners. On the sweet, melancholy “Tears For Nada,” it sounds like Jon Christensen behind the kit. Take a listen to “Cornettology” behind the horns, and you’ll find him and Evangelista playing along different, but perfectly parallel tracks; they lock into a tight and multi-faceted rhythm with Evangelista on “Tribe” that proves some sort of telepathy is going on amongst the members of the rhythm section. The loose, airy way the songs are played give both Sferra and Evangelista a lot of freedom, but also a bigger responsibility to use that freedom wisely. Rava’s trust in them are confirmed on song after song.

Rava himself doesn’t step up to the front fully until the third track “Choctaw” but it’s on the sixth track, “F. Express” (Youtube above) where we are treated to the full measure of his horn’s beauty; the human phrasing combined with technical proficiency displayed here exemplifies why he is who he is.

Enrico Rava is now eight years into his return to the ECM label, and he’s been on a tear ever since. The winning streak continues with Tribe. By surrounding himself with exciting young players, Rava himself stays vibrant and vital. Tribe testifies that the present, as well as the future, of jazz in Italy is in great shape.

Tribe goes on sale November 1.

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