Although saxophonist Joe Lovano has appeared on a number of ECM recordings since the early 1980s, Trio Tapestry, from earlier this year, was his first release as leader for the label. On his own recordings, Lovano is probably best known as a post-bop player with a solid, unerring sense of swing. Trio Tapestry was a move in a slightly different direction -- Lovano’s 11 compositions were atmospheric and contemplative without descending into background music. He was aided greatly by his accompanists, pianist Marilyn Crispell and drummer Carmen Castaldi.
Roma documents a November 10, 2018 concert at Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica, co-led by Lovano and Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava. Rava has been with ECM since 1975, when his playing leaned more toward free jazz. On Roma he plays flugelhorn, the instrument’s warm tone emphasizing his tremendous lyricism and feeling, which recall the economy and precision of Miles Davis. Giovanni Guidi, who often appears as a sideman on Rava’s sessions, is the pianist; the quintet is completed by two Americans, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Gerald Cleaver.
Lovano plays the opening statement of Rava’s “Interiors,” Guidi filling in behind him with dark, impressionistic chords. Rava joins Lovano, and the two play in counterpoint as the piece takes shape. Rava then begins a duet with Douglas, and soon Cleaver enters to give the music rhythmic focus. Guidi slowly filters in, adding splashes of chords as Rava’s playing intensifies. As “Interiors” continues through more sections, and solos by Guidi and Lovano, it takes on different forms and rhythms -- though 15 minutes long, it never falters or loses momentum.
Rava’s “Secrets” is a nine-minute workout with a beautifully developed solo from the composer and a free-ranging, edgy outing by Lovano. Guidi’s moment in the spotlight is lyrical, spontaneous, and carefully developed. Douglas and Cleaver set the pace in Lovano’s hard-swinging “Fort Worth,” the bassist underlining the drama and grit of Lovano’s playing and highlighting Rava’s lyricism.
Douglas and Cleaver are always dynamic and robust. Cleaver’s work in Lovano’s “Divine Timing” combines finesse and strength, and throughout the concert he responds to and helps emphasize and clarify the work of the other players. Douglas’s bass lines flow easily, giving the sound fullness and the music a strong underpinning.
The closing track is a 19-minute medley of Lovano’s “Drum Song,” John Coltrane’s “Spiritual,” and the Arlen-Harburg standard “Over the Rainbow.” Cleaver begins with a brief, energetic solo that leads in Lovano and Douglas. Here Lovano plays a tárogató, a single-reed instrument similar to and pitched slightly higher than a clarinet, and used in Romanian and Hungarian folk music. Douglas and Cleaver circle around him as Guidi plays splashes of chords, and all shift easily into a more structured, swinging passage in which Lovano and Rava play off each other.
Rava plays a lyrical solo, and the group easily segues into “Spiritual,” with Lovano now on tenor sax, the quintet remaining together even as the music grows intense and harmonically complex. All then drop out to give Guidi a lengthy solo spot in which he plays with gentle sensitivity before segueing into “Over the Rainbow,” to end Roma on a calm, bewitching note.
The recording is so rich in atmosphere that I was moved to find a photo of the interior of the Auditorium Parco Della Musica to get an idea of how well its ambience was captured. The high notes of Guidi’s piano sparkle, the low notes of Lovano’s tenor have impressive heft, and Rava’s flugelhorn is warm and full.
Recording quality aside, Roma is worth hearing for its documentation of the impressive interaction of two seasoned musicians -- Rava is 80, Lovano 66 -- with much younger players who encourage and push them to great heights. Roma is an impressive entry in the discographies of both of these great jazz veterans, and an even more impressive entry in those of their sidemen.
. . . Joseph Taylor