While the northern reaches of Europe — specifically the Scandinavian countries — are generally thought to be the continent’s jazz incubator, a versatile array of Italian musicians has, slowly but surely, been altering that power balance. For the last week in March, this Times Square-area boite hosted a celebration of Italy’s torchbearers — some new blood and some graybeards — in a series of smartly staged double bills.
Trumpeter Enrico Rava, arguably the vanguard of the Italian invasion, is one of his chosen instrument’s more lyrical practitioners — a fact he underscored vividly over the course of his quintet’s headlining perf. Eschewing crisp tones, Rava fashioned his compositions with an ear for comfort rather than precision; sometimes slurred, other times warmly conversational, his playing fluttered at the edge of bop, dipping occasionally into the less choppy waters of the free-jazz realm.
Drawing in large part from his recent ECM offerings “Easy Living” and “Tati,” Rava used his instrument as a conductor of light more than one of heat, a pursuit that was nicely furthered by trombonist Gianluca Petrella. While not as envelope-pushing as in his work as a leader, Petrella still managed to imbue the set with plenty of his own spirit, one that’s at once playful, forward-looking and unabashedly heady.
Pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, whose trio opened the show, takes a more visceral approach to his work, traversing the keys with an almost percussive touch. Opening with the tightly wound “Anecdote,” which was dotted with quick exchanges with drummer Paul Motian (a frequent collaborator of Pieranunzi’s), the trio did a nice job of balancing tension and release. The latter proved to be their most effective mode, particularly on the Brazilian-tinged “In Such a Short Time.”