New York City has always had a special place in the affections of Italian trumpet master Enrico Rava, and not merely in its time-honoured capacity as the globe’s jazz capital. After early adventures in Europe with Gato Barbieri and Steve Lacy, Rava followed them to New York in 1967 and ended up staying for six years, taking part in the musical upheavals of the period, participating in some epochal recordings, and forming his first bands as a leader. Identified now as one of the architects of a European and specifically ‘Italian’ improvising sensibility, Rava shaped his musical identity in New York, and American jazz remains forever his first love and frame of reference. When he speaks of the thinking behind “New York Days”, an album recorded in NYC early last year, he cites the influence of both Duke Ellington and Miles Davis – Duke for writing music “specifically for the individual players” and Miles “for not writing too much at all!”. In brief: some well chosen notes and a lot of trust in all the participants. “I give the melodies and chords, a few lines to indicate arrangements...and if the musicians choose to play something else instead, I’m happy. The beauty of this music is its capacity to surprise.” Saxophonist Mark Turner notes, Rava knows how to “generate a great deal of content from a little information – that’s actually very hard to do, and Enrico does it so well.”
A little information but much intertwined history: the quintet heard here came together for this session, but there are numerous interconnections between the players. Stefano Bollani has been associated with Rava since the early 1990s, and has acknowledged Enrico as his mentor. Rava encouraged the prodigiously gifted pianist, then active in both pop and classical contexts, to commit himself fully to jazz. Bollani has since gone on to become, in the view of many critics, the most outstanding jazz pianist of his generation. His recordings with Rava include the quintet album “Easy Living”, “Tati”(trio with Paul Motian) and the duo album “The Third Man”.
Before “Tati”, Rava and drummer Paul Motian had crossed paths on many occasions over the years. Both are on Carla Bley’s epic “Escalator Over the Hill” (1968-71), for instance, and both toured in a Joe Henderson Quintet at the end of the 1980s. Bassist Larry Grenadier has worked a lot with Motian (including Paul’s Trio 2000), and first played with Bollani some eight years ago, jamming also with Rava back then. Mark Turner and Larry Grenadier have played extensively together in the trio Fly, and Mark has played with Rava as a guest on Italian concerts...
The relationship between the two hornmen, Rava and Turner, is one of the immediately arresting aspects of “New York Days”. Turner, who makes his ECM debut here, has strong conceptual roots in Warne Marsh as well as Coltrane and his thoughtful, analytical lines contrast strikingly with Rava’s generous lyricism. The ever-resourceful Bollani is able to bridge both approaches in his harmonic language and extend ideas from both players in his own solo statements. It’s a two way process. Bollani praises Enrico’s attentiveness: “From the very first time we played together, in 1996, there was always an exchange of ideas, and it was immediately clear that Enrico was listening as closely to me as I was to him. That was inspiring and encouraging. “
Larry Grenadier, best known perhaps for his contributions to the groups of Brad Mehldau and Pat Metheny, takes seriously the bass roles of inspiring and energizing a band. He has long enjoyed opportunities to share rhythm section duties with Paul Motian: “Paul’s one of the greatest drummers and musicians I've ever played with. He approaches the drums with a childlike innocence combined with an incredibly rooted sense of bebop tradition.” Motian has had a lifelong commitment to “making it new” and remains amongst the most unpredictable, and most poetic, of drummers, splintering the beat and reassembling it in ever-changing shapes. Paul once said that, of all the musicians he has played with, he has been most influenced by Thelonious Monk: Monk’s extreme originality as well as his fondness for sudden rhythmic displacements find a deep echo in Motian’s work.
Between the two grand masters, Motian at the drum kit and Rava in the frontline, the younger players of the quintet find their space. Enrico: “I like musicians within my bands to have the maximum freedom possible.” Together the ensemble creates music of ‘timeless’ quality, informed by jazz history (the Rava/Turner combination in particular suggests at times a cross-referencing of the ‘schools’ of Miles and Tristano), but also very much of the present.
“New York Days” was produced by Manfred Eicher at Avatar Studios, New York, in February 2008.