It’s not the first pairing that springs to mind: a 73-year-old Italian jazz trumpeter and the music of a recently departed pop icon. But, so the story goes, shortly after Michael Jackson’s death Enrico Rava saw some concert footage of him and was knocked out. So he bought his back catalogue, listened to it in the car, and this live concert is the result.
The tunes are all Jackson’s own, with the exception of Rod Temperton’s Thriller and Charlie Chaplin’s Smile. The arrangements, by trombonist Mauro Ottolini are inventive and somehow make the leap from US disco pop to Italian jazz while sort of doing justice to both.
Try track two, They Don’t Care About Us, which has a jaunty, jumpy extended intro before kicking into a reggae beat and strong solo from Rava, and then erupts into full on thrash with mad saxophone leading the fall into chaos and a final romp through the theme.
Thriller is a Latin-percussed groover, but somehow feels a little tired and drags without the lyrics, while the finale, History – Rava favours the later Jackson music – is particularly grand with anthemic brass – it feels a bit like a funeral cortege with added electric guitar aggression to upset things.
I suppose the strongest link Rava and Jackson share is their sense of fun, and the ability to somehow often say something quite serious in the lightest of ways.
Filled with rich music and some strong playing as this album is – it is all from live performances on two nights in 2011, and pianist Giovanni Guidi is in particularly good form – I don’t think it’s Rava’s finest moment. What the album reveals in the end is that Michael Jackson’s music was best when Michael Jackson made it. Affection for a great artists doesn’t always translate into a great tribute album.