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Enrico Rava's new quartet has no piano or guitar. Already this is not only an anomaly for Italian jazzers, but also a rare occasion in the jazz world everywhere today. Rava's haunted mysterious lyricism has become more and more pronounced over the past decade, and his new band reveals the depth of commitment to exploring new avenues in it. With Javier Girotto on baritone and soprano saxophones, sensational bassist Ares Tavolazzi, and Fabrizio Sferra on drums, the makeup of this band is not unlike that of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet with Chet Baker. But makeup is where the similarities end. Rava's sense of adventure is wide-ranging and his restraint in tempo and multi-textural dynamics surpasses the concerns of Mulligan's pioneering experiments in harmony. For instance, the sprightly read of "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" is a commingling of two contrapuntal melodies meeting in the center of a harmonic structure geared to open on either end. On "Mystère," Girotto's statement of theme is halted after six notes before Rava enters, playing around those same notes and eventually creating a melody that whispers by on the changes, or perhaps in spite of them. The funky blues syncopation in Girotto's composition "Miss MG" plays on the staccato concerns of bebop before opening onto a theme that could have been written by Jimmy Giuffre for clarinet — but here it is scripted for baritone sax and leads into of the most delightfully beguiling solos on the record. On other standards, such as "Moonlight in Vermont" and "Nature Boy," economy of space becomes the prime consideration for how the lyric line is developed. Tempos are taken slowly and purposefully and the ends of lines bleed into one another so that the notion of voice and song is ever present in the improvisation as well as in the theme and its variations. The title cut is the only real anomaly here, with its brisk tempo and flighty front-line statement, moving like something out of a Jack Sheldon/Art Pepper date with shifting time signatures. Ultimately, it's Rava, as soloist, arranger, and bandleader, who holds the keys to the smoky, lustrous world of sound and enchantment. And he uses his musicians to great purpose as they move all around the harmonic world, bringing out hidden delights and wonderfully executed tunes.
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