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Music Review: Enrico Rava – The Pilgrim and the Stars

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"Woo!!!"

And with that, we have "2" — the official total number of "Woo!"'s in the ECM catalog. This one comes from Enrico Rava, as guitarist John Abercrombie unleashes a particularly intense solo passage. (The other comes from Pat Metheny, who let go with a "Woooooo! Jack DeJohnette man!!" after the music faded on the class album 80/81. Actually, he kind of sounded like Tommy Chong in that instant… just sayin').

Ahem.

Available in the United States on CD for the first time (as part of ECM's Touchstones Series), The Pilgrim And The Stars shines a light back to 1975 — when jazz icons Enrico Rava and John Abercrombie were clearly different players. While not exactly a free jazz blowing session (though it does have its moments), the overall sound and attitude is quite different from what a listener might expect, being familiar with Rava and Abercrombie's more recent material.

This record has been a revelation of sorts for my ears, as my introduction to Rave's work came relatively recently, with his stellar trio album recorded with Stefano Bollani and Paul Motian.

On Rava's more recent outings, the emphasis has definitely been on the romantic and the lyrical. There are a few hints his free jazz roots, but you really have to be listening carefully.

Or… you can go right to the source. The interesting thing here is that both the romantic and the 'out' happily coexist on this record, often inside of the same composition. The title track opens the album and is typical of this "bi-modal" approach. Bassist Palle Danielsson helps to coax Rava's trumpet along a path of searching and wonderment, lightly framed by Jon Christensen's cymbal work and Abercombie's supportive arpeggios. Just a few minutes later and the entire group, in particularly Rava and Abercombie, are attempting to burn the house down with shrieking chromaticism, feedback, and plain old barely controlled energy.

Bella also follows that kind of structural template, beginning with a relatively pensive Abercrombie setting things up with some ringing chords and harmonics. Rava soon joins in, telling his glowing story. A few minutes later and the steaming horn juice has overtaken things, only to be followed by the Woo!-inducing Abercombie guitar solo. It has to be one of the most angular and aggressive things he's ever played.

Rava's instincts served him well on this record, as there are just enough "normal" segments (including the cool guitar/horn duet "Parks" as well as "Pesce Naufrago") to make the 'out' bits seem all that more intense. Speaking of intense, thirsty ears need to check out "Surprise Hotel," just under two minute of full-on guitar and horn freakout. That tune makes way for "By The Sea," a showcase for Abercombie's comping skills. You haven't lived until you've heard the icy tones and chiming chords, all played very high up on the neck. Very exhilarating stuff.

"Woo!!!!"

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About Mark Saleski

  • http://somethingelsemusic.blogspot.com/ Pico

    This Rava record has all the ingredients for that classic, mid-seventies ECM sound. Everyone’s playing their asses off, but with a lot of lyricism. The makes the times when they go balls-out all the more significant. Abercrombie’s chimes on “By The Sea” stays in my head and won’t go away.

    Yeah, that “woo!” got my attention, too. You don’t forget those on an ECM record since they are so rare. It’s almost like a symbol of defiance against the Manfred Eicher’s immaculate studio regimen. Metheny was justified with his, as Jack had just got done destroying his drumkit ;-)