The Basement, November 3
No one can ever accuse the Italians of making anaemic art. From Dante to Puccini they have never been frightened of passion and drama. If you don’t feel anything when you encounter Italian art, chances are you’re dead. Their best jazz maintains this ardour, epitomised by trumpeter Enrico Rava’s work across the last half century.
As had been obvious from his albums Rava has one of the most gorgeous sounds in the business. Whether imbued with an easy lyricism or a sly playfulness, his lines were streams of silver light that built to sometimes operatic squalls.
While his recorded output has centred on his own compositions, here, teamed with Australian players, he opted to play standards. Ultimately hearing Rava’s material may have been even more magical, but this was fascinating in its own way, with his collaborators – tenor saxophonist Mirko Guerrini, pianist Paul Grabowsky, bassist Frank Di Sario and drummer Niko Schauble – equally disposed to reinvent the songs at every turn.
They unearthed the reggae implications of You Don’t Know What Love Is, the surface of the music blistering under the trumpet’s heat. Guerrini’s powerful solo built to an early climax, and then eased back into a long denouement of fluttering, after-midnight phrases. The tenor was also masterful on My Funny Valentine, beginning at the whispered level of pillow-talk, and gradually intensifying without growing in density or volume. Here Grabowsky was at his most delicate and beguiling, which was fortuitous, because a PA problem had the piano distorting whenever he played more robustly during the first set.
The problem (a failed speaker) was disguised in the second set, and one could relish the pianist’s disquieting harmonies on Bye Bye Blackbird. This evolved into more like a carnival of blackbirds in a tumultuous trumpet/drums duet.
As ideal a band as this was in many ways, perhaps it (and Schauble in particular) might have left more space more often into which Rava could have emitted those brilliant silver streams.