The relative safety of a record contract can easily engender unwelcome complacency in the work of an artist. Enrico Rava hasn’t quite fallen victim to the syndrome, but his past several ECM endeavors have come increasingly close to feeling rote. New York Days breaks cleanly from precedence by placing Rava’s cool-toned texture-rich trumpet in front of an ensemble of improvising heavyweights largely outside his usual Italian circle. Pianist Stefano Bollani is the only holdover from his working quintet. Saxophonist Mark Turner joins the seemingly incongruous influences of John Coltrane and Warne Marsh in a highly elastic harmonic sense. That mixture of fire and ice yields a fair bit of steam, enough to heat the band.
Drummer Paul Motian makes for another ace on the team. His cellular level approach to rhythm, rife with oblique asides and an abiding allergy to four-square beat deployment, sweeps away any hints of stasis in Rava’s charts. Rounding out the quintet is bassist Larry Grenadier, linchpin of countless jazz gigs and possessor of a light pizzicato touch that often hangs at the borders of audibility in that venerable “felt rather than seen” role.
“Lulu” opens the action in predictable ballad fashion, Motian whisking cyclic brush patterns as Bollani builds gilded chords. Rava’s horn is all melancholy and romance, swaying from curled smears to streaks, in his declination of the theme. Turner comes on similarly spacious with Motian’s brushes opening the interplay up even further rather than boxing it in.
Rava unveils the first surprise with the following cut, one of two free-leaning improvisations. They’re not free in an explosive “fire music” sense of his youthful forays with Steve Lacy and Cecil Taylor, but come across instead as cool chamber constructions adhering again to the ECM aesthetic of atmosphere. “Outsider” alters tack again with a fast thrumming bass line and the leader’s slow-boiling commentary, Bollani constructing a cascading tickertape of notes as counterpoint. Turner’s entrance plays even more on contrasting tempi and the piece as a whole has a deliciously disorienting feel about it.
Later tunes like the Latin-stamped “Luna Urbana” and the languidly-paced but lushly realized “Lady Orlando” continue the tactic of taking chances and trading on the temerity of the talent pool. Rava’s reputation as an improviser of the first order receives another laudable boost with this beauteous effort. He’s also peripherally pointed a perspicacious solution for other colleagues who might find themselves beset by longueurs in the future.