Easy Living marks the return of veteran composer and trumpeter Enrico Rava to the roster of Manfred Eicher's ECM label after a 17-year break. Rava is regarded by many as the father of modern Italian jazz, and on Easy Living it's easy to see why. Rava's consummate, innovative lyricism and subtle yet profound harmonic inquiry lie at the heart of the Italian music in all of its manifestations, from post- and neo-bop to free and avant-garde articulations. Recorded at home in Udine with the same band he's been gigging with for the past four years, Easy Living is a relaxed, low-key affair that is nonetheless fully engaged and deceptive in its pastoral appearance. The nine compositions on Easy Living run the gamut from songlike architectures like "Cromosomi," which opens the set, to the shimmering contrapuntal speculative investigations of "Sand," where Stefano Bollani's piano and Gianluca Petrella's trombone engage one another in a slippery minor-key dialogue on both sides of the modal frame. When Rava enters for his solo across this spacious blue-black abyss, he roots the tune in both space and time with a subtle tension that follows Bollani's outward efforts but then brings them back into the scalar line. On "Algir Dalbughi," Rava plays completely unaccompanied to open the tune, singing sweetly and forlornly into the void before Bollani and Petrella join him, underscoring his melodic line with hushed droning chords and quiet ostinato adornments until the halfway point, where Rava turns the lyric back on itself and it becomes a blues with joyous piano vamps and swells going through the line. Rosario Bonaccorso's woody earth-tone bass solo introduces "Traveling Night" with a cavernous groan before Roberto Gatto's rim shots cue the ensemble members and they shift into gear with a stellar expressionist hard bop linearity that swings hard and true. The set closes with "Rain," introduced by a trumpet and piano reverie that flows like a late-night song from the stage of a nearly empty nightclub in the wee small hours. Bollani's gorgeous large-frame chord voicings are the perfect complement to Rava's out-of-the-cool blowing. When he erupts into his legato phrasing in the high register, the band picks up the intensity and dynamic but holds open the harmonic space for him to land without a breach. In sum, for all of its warmth and beauty, for all of its free-flowing interplay between the front line and the shimmering rhythms, this is as adventurous and poetic as jazz can be in the new century.
Born: 20 August 1939 in Trieste, Italy
Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s