On the Dance Floor (ECM)
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., Feb. 22, 2013
Enrico RavaOn the Dance Floor (ECM)
Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, George & Ira Gershwin – standards from another millennia. In this one, there's Michael Jackson, King of Bop. "In his lifetime I had only a superficial acquaintance with Michael Jackson's work," writes 73-year-old Italian trumpet sage Enrico Rava in the liner note to On the Dance Floor. "But returning home from a gig a few days after his passing, I found my wife Lidia watching a DVD of his concert in Bucharest, and was swept away as if by a tornado. From that moment onward I couldn't live without his music." Emeritus blower in a generation of late Sixties and Seventies European Miles Davis acolytes, Rava's lifetime achievements are capable of the same distinction. Akin to classical pianist-cum-NPR host Christopher O'Riley's True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead (plus follow-ups Home to Oblivion: An Elliott Smith Tribute and Second Grace: The Music of Nick Drake), Rava's Michael Jackson mix trumpets the transformative, equal or better to Bay Area guitar virtuoso Charlie Hunter's Bob Marley revelation, 1997's Natty Dread. Live at the Rome Auditorium's Parco della Musica Jazz Lab, a picture of which, in the CD booklet, reveals a silver-plated cetacean – the Moby Dick of music venues – Rava's dozen argonauts pull off a thrilling musical of sorts that harkens to Peter Pan. Not until "Thriller" prances third might it even become obvious these are all covers of the Jackson Five's onetime tiny dynamo turned adult hoofing soundtrack. If On the Dance Floor didn't already swing you on its first notes, however, then you weren't ever Off the Wall, anyway. The disc's cold start, a few seconds of silence into sudden applause pushing up in volume, sets the stage for a grand piano, though not by the maestro's great accompanist and countryman, Stefano Bollani. Creeping bass prompts Rava's first blush of horn, his clarion brass cutting the still air, the aural equivalent of a spotlight illuminating a silver instrument. Three trumpets – two in duality and a third coloring underneath – then sound and there emerges Rava, blowing "Speechless" from Jackson's final studio album, 2001's Invincible. Know it? Me neither, but on Rava's lips it could be Duke Ellington. Plinking ivories and feigned bird calls next open "They Don't Care About Us," which builds into an orchestral tantalizer, a reverse deforestation in its lumbering hook erupting into something out of The Jungle Book before dropping into a delicious ragga as Rava's horn sweeps in over the elephantine parade of trombones, tuba, and saxophones. Six minutes in, an electric guitar and eruption of fusionesque skronk has all but transformed into heavy metal, a children's opera stomped by Mastodon. The amped, six-string intro to "Privacy" leaves a similar footprint, while "Smile" flirts with "In the Still of the Night," and "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" drifts into abstraction up until the point it segues into "Smooth Criminal," wherein guitar, bass, and trumpets break into the song's unmistakable strut and lyric refrain, "Annie are you OK." Check your heart rate afterward. Traditional jazz languor, Broadway musical punctuation, and a cymbal ride all meet Rava's swooning leads on "Little Susie," with "History" soon taking it all home on flourishing riffs and hooks, an everyone-on-the-dance-floor moment if ever there was one.