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Enrico Rave Quintet Performance

Enrico Rave Quintet Performance Photo by Luca d'Agostino / ECM Records

Nuance and breathing room was the order of the day for Enrico Rava's February ending  performance at Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery. This was the last stop on a four-city, American tour and the audience fully understood just how auspicious the afternoon's concert was to be. The quintet hit the stage and with no fanfare, immediately set to work.

"Amnesia" has a sepulchral melody that awakens slowly, yawning and stretching over pulse-less, chattering drums. The energy became a groundswell as Gianluca Petrella's trombone told a wailing story that was taken up by Rava, as he proved that at 72 years of age, he could still spit out flurries of notes with serious intent. Eventually, drummer Fabrizio Sferra sprung into the hyperactive rhythm that signaled a segue into "Choctaw." While the band surged joyfully atop bassist Gabriele Evangelista and Fabrizio's propulsion, you could just feel that this band was capable of a more demonstrative power, much like a restrained leopard on a stout chain. In the brief pause at the end of this piece, a hush fell over the audience, as though holding its breath, waiting to be kissed.

From here, a blow-by-blow accounting of each tune became virtually impossible. This band is simply a group of alchemists. One composition seamlessly morphed into the next making it difficult to distinguish the difference between segments of a single composition or the transition from one piece to another. But as with any good alchemist, it was magical to hear how this was changed into that, only to have it mutate yet again into something else equally spellbinding.

Notes seemed to hang in the air like water droplets in freeze-frame photography. Piano accompaniment from Giovanni Guidi supplied notes as delicate as fine china during bass solos. Clear, piercing notes from Rava's trumpet was paired with slippery trombone playing that was all glissandos and smears. Or was it boisterous trombone, like a charging elephant, paired with staccato trumpet bursts while Guidi's pelvis gyrated above his piano bench to the manic polyrhythm? Or could it have been something that sounded like an eastern European folk song (in a 12/8 meter) with mirrored horn lines and then something faintly echoing a second line cadence from the Crescent City in the next moment? Actually, it was all of the above, as Rava's quintet played a "stream of consciousness" set, following each other's queues and leads as though everyone was the leader and no one was the leader.

Dedicated to Woody Allen, the composition "Interiors" was bona fide film noir music. If the music could be translated into words, it would have been "It was a dark, lonely, rain-swept night." Petrella supplied melancholy harmonies behind Rava's crystalline trumpet solo while Guidi's piano sprinkled notes like soft raindrops on a skylight. Whether intentional or not, Evangelista's bass solo was resonant and "woody."

The last piece of the set featured trombonist Petrella and for the first time he used a plunger mute. And this particular leopard was finally unchained. And like all wild cats, he ran with it! Every trick in his bag was employed and the crowd ate it up while the band was mightily inspired. Wow! For the encore, they played their theme song "Tribe" and brought the energy level back to where, hopefully, our feet would again touch the carpet.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Enrico Rave Quintet
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