Enrico Rava ‘On the dance floor’ (ECM) 4/5

Here is one of the surprise releases of the year so far. Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava is known for his fluid playing style, but on returning home one night after the death of Michael Jackson, he caught his wife watching a live video of the singer. Rava was simply entranced by the music, went out and bought some choice albums by Jackson and then decided he would would record an entire album of the soul star’s compositions with a big band. The result is this magnificent live recording from the futuristic Rome auditorium known at the Parca della Musica, something of an equivalent, perhaps, of the French Cité de la Musique complex in Paris. There are some real gems here and it is as though you are hearing the familiar Jackson sound through an entirely new and exhilarating prism.
Possibly the strongest cut of all and a potential clubland winner is ‘Blood on the dancefloor’. ECM scored a major hit in the late 1990s with Nils Peter Molvaer and ‘Khmer’ and this particular interpretation has enough percussive energy (with fine guitar solo courtesy of Marcello Giannini) to appeal to a non-jazz audience that likes left-field dance music in the same vein as say Gotan Project. How about a 12″ cut of the number, ECM? Of course the main theme to ‘Thriller’ is one of the best known on the planet, but here the array of synthesizers on the Quincy Jones produced original is replaced instead by a thumping brass section that is scintillating from start to finish. In a more reposing style is the opener ‘Speechless’ with Rava leading the brass with his usual clarity of voice and this features a pared down duet between trumpet and piano. Throughout there is fine individual and ensemble playing with bass à la Jaco Pastorius on ‘I just can’t stop loving you’. In contrast ‘History’ is performed in a mournful manner more in keeping with a New Orleans funeral wake (at the beginning of such a procession at least) and it is unlikely that most other musicians would have contemplated approaching the number in this way. The creative spirit is typified on the same piece by the fine bass and percussion breakdown. Enrico Rava deserves great credit for attempting this project and pulling it off with such panache. Tim Stenhouse

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