Enrico Rava / Joe Lovano ‘Roma’ CD (ECM) 5/5

Recorded live at Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica in November 2018, “Roma” documents the meeting of the doyen of Italian jazz, Enrico Rava, with masterful US tenorist Joe Lovano. Together they front a spirited and lyrical quintet that includes the brilliant pianist Giovanni Guidi, the dynamic drummer Gerald Cleaver and rising star bassist Dezron Douglas. A quite formidable five-piece one might venture to suggest, and they certainly don’t disappoint.

Well-loved tunes by the two bandleaders form the core of the programme, including Rava’s intricate “Interiors” and “Secrets”, along with Lovano’s vigorous Texas blues “Fort Worth”. Another Lovano original, “Divine Timing”, was written especially for this ensemble. One of the many highlights of the album is the concluding melody that roams freely across the history of modern jazz, gathering together “Lovano’s “Drum Song”, John Coltrane’s “Spiritual”, and the standard (although there’s nothing standard about this performance), “Over The Rainbow”.

More than twenty years ago a handful of shared gigs with Miroslav Vitous and Tony Oxley gave a hint of potential to be explored, but the 2018 tour that this recording is taken from, marked the first time that the two bandleaders shaped a repertoire together. And although Rava and Lovano inevitably and correctly take the headline, it is, in fact, the beauty of the quintet as a whole that also makes this album stand out. Bassist Douglas and drummer Cleaver work particularly well together, and pianist Guidi once more proves what a thoughtful, intuitive player his is, often taking the solos into a different dimension that sees the two bandleaders supporting before gifting the audience with their own inimitably stylistic soloing.

All of the two leader’s experience comes together throughout this wonderful album. One might have thought the pair may not sit that comfortably together in a musical sense, historically speaking, yet it would seem that as they have both matured in years, so has their musical approach, moving ever closer. Perhaps some collaborations rely on a certain sense of timing, and with this one, it would appear to have been the perfect time for the two masters of jazz to work together.

The music is at times intense, but the nature is relaxed and I certainly get the impression that there’s a lovely openness and freedom of expression throughout the entire set. The opening piece “interiors” simmers gently with conversational aplomb, whilst the spirited “Secrets” positively burns with a spellbinding iridescence. The hard-driving post-bop of “Fort Worth” gives way to some stunning improv on “Divine Timing”. Cleaver’s spotlight moment leads the listener into the engaging “Drum Song”, with some focussed interplay from the two band-leaders catching the imagination on Coltrane’s classic “Spiritual”. The album closes with an incredible piece of virtuosity from pianist Guidi, as his beautiful and ethereal take on “Over The Rainbow” brings the set to an enchanting close.

As ECM celebrates its 50th year, “Roma” is yet another example of what makes this label so special. Wonderful, captivating jazz from a very special quintet of musicians.

Mike Gates