Rava Enchants at Ystad Jazz Fest
The Ystad Jazz Festival, held July 30–Aug. 3, celebrated its fifth anniversary in high, musically vibrant style around its namesake medieval city in southern Sweden. The most potent impact of the festival’s dense and multicultural, multi-style program took place late on Aug. 2, when the eminent, open-minded and ever-youthful Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava seized the stage and massaged the audience at the Ystad Teater. (The venue is a marvel designed by architect Peter Boisen and built in 1894.)
Rava’s late-night/early morning set, with his project Tribe—featuring the powerhouse trombonist Gianluca Petrella—was something of a micro-festival in itself. The set nimbly incorporated romantic jazz bearings, segments of free improvisation, Italian folkloric sonorities, post-bop and the Ornette Coleman-esque jazz shapes of the brisk workout “Cornettology.” Rava’s Tribe delivered a musical suite that managed to be forward-leaning and backward-glancing, sentimental and rebellious, all joined in a coherent package. The primary key to the artistic coherence: Rava’s unique musical voice, assured while still evolving, solid and fluid.
Rava, 74, is celebrated for his lyrical style and signature sound as a trumpeter and bandleader, well-suited to the aesthetic agenda of the ECM label, for whom he has recorded many a fine, memorable album. He has culled a wide vocabulary of ideas and attitudes in his Tribe project, captured on a 2011 quintet album titled Tribe. That album’s tracks were the basis of the command performance in Ystad, featuring potent mid-career drummer Fabrizio Sferrra, promising young bassist Gabriele Evangelista, pianist Giovanni Guidi (an artist to watch, with a special acumen and daring approach in the free zone) and Petrella, one of the most galvanizing trombonists on the scene.
The horn players up front—the seasoned icon and the young sensation—were the center of the ensemble’s focus; they established a rugged rapport, nailing melody lines or interacting with elastic dialoguing in the heat of musical action. In a sense, they meet in a generational and stylistic middle zone: Rava’s playful sides and visceral vitality keep him young-sounding, while the trombonist sports both a young virtuoso’s antic energy and a mature-beyond-years composure.
Opening the set freely, and settling into a rhythmic pulse gradually, the trumpeter coaxed his loud, bold smears and lyrical personae, while Petrella asserted his own inside-outside approach, fitted with a big bone sound and a subtle attention to colors and detail.
The Ystad show covered a broad range of ideas and musical moods, from the witty, wistful cafe-toned balladry of “Paris Baguette” to the driving yet airy “Choctaw” and the snaky riff-fueled, propulsive anthem that is the Tribe title track, with trumpet and trombone swapping harmony-melody roles and engaging in conversation.
Cinematic qualities have long been a part of the Rava magic, as he channels iconic film score composer (and Fellini foil) Nino Rota and has paid oblique tribute to the dry-witted French comic Jacques Tati with his 2005 ECM project Tati. What transpired in Ystad had a cinematic, storytelling quality, but in an ambiguous way, as the concert proceeded with an implied narrative arc, conveyed through multiple and varied episodes rather than the more standard method of discrete tunes in a set list.
Overall, the encounter in Ystad had the feel and exploratory musical terrain-venturing character of something more than merely a jazz concert. At show’s end, the festival’s charming tradition of handing red roses to each musician gave rise to amiable clowning with the ceremonial flowers, before the band launched into a kitschy-sweet tango-fied encore.
Rava—a veteran with passion, energy and restless ideas left to plumb—is still going strong, deep, wide and free, as demonstrated by his performance on this enchanted night on the Baltic.