As a title, "So Nice" might imply a sleepy and quite possibly uninspired session calculated to avoid challenges. That notion is quickly dispelled by the sprightly and imaginative solo Houston Person takes on "Blues Everywhere" that kicks off this collection. Person, of course, is a master of understated elegance, a balladeer of the highest order. But he's equally capable of playing tough, soulful tenor with virile vigor. True to form, Person shows both his sides and delivers a program that alternates between creamy-smooth ballads and bluesier offerings with significant bite. With the amazing Warren Vache on cornet and Mark Patterson on trombone, the little big band sound here is stellar.
Since his return to ECM Records in 2003, Enrico Rava, grand master of Italian jazz, has made a number of recordings exceptional by any standards, with groups both national and international. "Tribe" belongs to the former category. The trumpeter is playing at a peak of lyrical invention, and his newest quintet is his strongest yet. Voted Rising Star Trombonist in the Downbeat Critics Poll of a few years back, Gianluca Petrella has a front-line relationship with Rava which recalls Enrico's affinity with Roswell Rudd back in the heyday of the New Thing. Rava has always encouraged younger musicians, and pianist Giovanni Guidi and bassist Gabriele Evangelista are young players of much promise. Drummer Fabrizio Sferra's resume includes work with Chet Baker, Paul Bley and Kenny Wheeler.