Enrico Rava – Rava On the Dance Floor
(ECM 370 6654. CD Review by Chris Parker)
If the idea of Italy’s most celebrated, elegant and accomplished trumpeter leading a young band through a selection of Michael Jackson tunes surprises you, you’re in good company: Enrico Rava himself gave no thought to the pop star’s music until, intrigued by the global interest in Jackson’s premature death in June 2009, he began listening to it in earnest.
Initially grabbed by what he calls ‘the contagious riff to “Smooth Criminal”’, Rava eventually concluded, after immersing himself in Jackson’s music, that the singer was ‘a total artist, a perfectionist, a genius’.
Here, in a live concert at the Rome Auditorium, Rava spearheads an eleven-piece band (Parco della Musica Jazz Lab) in an often rumbustious but consistently tasteful selection of Jackson tunes (plus his perennial favourite, Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Smile’) arranged by trombonist Mauro Ottolini.
As with most material initially intended as danceable pop, Jackson’s tunes (and, especially, Rod Temperton’s ‘Thriller’) are a mite predictable and unvarying, in both their chord sequences and their basic rhythms, for wholly satisfactory jazz exploitation, but the band approaches the project with verve and aplomb, and Rava himself impresses every time he solos, imbuing everything he plays with his trademark poise and slightly raffish refinement.
There are also some magnificent rocky, head-banging climaxes (‘They Don’t Care About Us’ a particular highlight), but overall, the stylistic gap between the immediacy – the ‘sugar-rush’ – of pop and the subtler gourmet’s delights of jazz is never quite bridged.