Cool Like Gelato
Enrico Rava is one cool guy. His hair looks cool, his face looks cool, his trumpet’s tone is cool as hell. It’s somewhere between Chet Baker and Chuck Mangione—and from me, those are both compliments. (Don’t let me catch you making fun of Chuck, yo, that guy was the BUSINESS in the late 1970s.) And then there’s the undeniably cool fact that Rava is very largely responsible for the entire modern Italian jazz scene.
This album is also cool. Not like “hey daddy-o let’s go to your hipster hootenanny” cool, but cool like gelato, cool like Marcello Mastroianni, cool like chilled-out, reserved, no-freak-out jazz. Rava leads a trio featuring Stefano Bollani on piano and the great Paul Motian on drums, and together they take on some standards and some Rava originals as if they were playing in the lobby of that ice hotel in Sweden—better not get too crazy, guys, we could bring this mother down and lose the gig!
Every note is significant on this immaculate recording. Rava is a big fan of space, and there’s lots of it here: “E Lucevan Le Stelle” starts out so spacy that Motian can’t even agree with himself on what the tempo is for a while, and Rava seems to count out his notes like he’s got a finite supply. Even the uptempo stuff stays away from the demonstrative; “Fantasm” sounds like a wind-up toy at first, just Bollani goofing with himself, but even when Motian gets all poundy and riffy and cymbal-worrying and Rava starts playing big squiggles and splurts all over the place, there’s a welcome distance in the sound, a clear separation of musical passion from sloppy craziness.
“Mirrors” is another piece that honors the silence between the notes as much as the notes themselves, but Motian’s tempo is more definite, and is driven forward by Bollani’s clusters and Rava’s assurance in his lead. It occurs to me about here just what a weird drummer Paul Motian is, so nicely appointed and well-intentioned but so unconventional in how he voices his drums. It also occurs to me how hard he swings on “Cornetology”, which is pretty much just him getting to be Gene Krupa for six and a half minutes while the other two get a little more free in that European way that suggests that they both know exactly what they’re going to play next, and makes that just as exciting as any old free-jazz blowfest. Probably more, because this really is a hot tune and, as such, kind of an anomaly album-wise.
It’s recorded beautifully by ECM label head Manfred Eicher, and it’s played well but not boringly so, and it’s cool. It even has a concept—the movies of Jacques Tati—but that, like everything else here, is understated, tangential. It’s pretty and it’s cool and I like it and it goes extremely well with a cup of hot green tea on a cold winter night. But I wouldn’t play it in the summer.