Simply “Marvellous” !
Saturday, February 09, 2013
Reviewed by: Ian Mann
A celebration of the human spirit and a hugely uplifting and enjoyable listening experience.
“Simply Marvellous! - Celebrating the Music of Michel Petrucciani”
The Italian born saxophonist Tommaso Starace is now based in London and has become a much loved figure on the UK music scene. Starace’s previous album “Blood & Champagne” (2010) included an enjoyable cover of the Michel Petrucciani tune “Even Mice Dance”, a piece that became a popular item in his British quartet’s live performances.
Now Starace has gone a stage further and released an entire album celebrating the music of Petrucciani (1962-99). The diminutive French pianist and composer died tragically young as the result of a congenital illness, a rare form of bone disease. However he left behind a series of excellent recordings, mainly on either Blue Note or the French Dreyfus label with Starace adapting his album title from Petrucciani’s recording “Marvellous” which featured the all star rhythm section of bassist Dave Holland and the late Tony Williams (drums).
Starace recorded his tribute at the famous Artesuno studios in Italy with his Italian quartet (he also runs a UK version) featuring pianist Michele Di Toro, bassist Attilio Zanchi and drummer Tommy Bradascio. The album also features guest appearances by Fabrizio Bosso (trumpet & flugelhorn) and British vibraphonist Roger Beaujolais. The programme consists of nine Pertrucciani tunes plus Starace’s original “Marvellous”, effectively the title track and Starace’s own homage to the brilliant little Frenchman.
Starace’s liner notes emphasise Petrucciani’s positive attitude and zest for life and his refusal to be defined by or restricted by his disabilities. Much of Petrucciani’s writing is joyous and optimistic as emphasised by the title and style of the opening track “Looking Up”. Starace and his colleagues play this uplifting tune with relish, the highlights including the leader’s crisp, clean alto sound and Beaujolais’ sparkling vibes. Di Toro has the unenviable task of “being Petrucciani” but here he rises to the challenge with an audacious passage of solo piano and a subsequent tumultuous solo backed by propulsive bass and drums.
“Guadeloupe” is less frenetic but no less satisfying with a delightful exchange of ideas and solos between Starace on alto and guest Bosso, here on flugel, with Di Toro and the rhythm section adding a subtle Latin inflection to the music. The pianist’s own solo vies with those of the horn men for excellence.
As its title suggests “Simply Bebop” is a charming Petrucciani exploration of that idiom that allows Starace to match Charlie Parker himself for fluency above a bustling rhythm. Di Toro is in equally sparkling form as his brilliantly imaginative solo demonstrates.
“Rachid” demonstrates a more romantic aspect of Petrucciani’s writing and allows Di Toro to demonstrate the more lyrical side of his playing. Other highlight’s include Zanchi’s deeply resonant bass solo, Starace’s pure toned soprano and the delicate flow of Beaujolais’ vibes.
Petrucciani liked to refer to his compositions as “songs” and there’s a definite song like quality to the lilting “September Second” another profoundly uplifting piece that teams Starace’s pure toned alto with the joyous flow of Beaujolais’ vibes and Di Toro’s piano.
There’s a reprise of “Even Mice Dance” albeit in a very different form. The version of “Blood & Champagne” was recorded by Starace’s British quartet and at a much faster tempo. Here the piece is introduced by a lengthy passage of solo piano from Di Toro complete with quotations from Chopin’s “Prelude No. 20”. The Chopin piece was the inspiration behind Petrucciani’s composition and it was Starace’s idea to bring them together in a single arrangement.
This version of the Petrucciani tune that inspired the project may be more reflective than its previous incarnation but is equally valid and, more importantly, equally as enjoyable with Zanchi’s dexterous bass solo a particular highlight and with Di Toro in inspired form throughout.
“Little Peace in C for You” is an inspired duet between Starace on dancing soprano sax and Di Toro on piano, the latter’s left hand producing some dazzlingly complex rhythms. The piece is a joyous and often dazzling performance with both men displaying a remarkable level of technical expertise.
“My Bebop Tune” is another helter skelter bop excursion that pairs Starace and trumpeter Bosso on the devilishly tricky head before Bosso dives headlong in a thrilling solo mixing astonishingly fluent phrases with guttural vocalised injections. Starace is no less impressive and Di Toro excels as always. The urgent and propulsive playing of Zanchi and Bradascio pushes the soloists to great heights and the drummer is awarded with a brief but sparky feature towards the end of the tune.
Starace’s “Marvellous” is a homage to Petrucciani written in the style of the pianist’s more romantic and lyrical mode with Starace’s alto cushioned by Bradascio’s delicately brushed grooves. Di Toro’s piano prompting is excellent throughout and his solo quirky and inventive.
The album concludes on a high note with the hard bop/gospel flavoured “Cantabile” with Starace leading the way on alto followed by Di Toro on piano and Beaujolis on vibes
I’m often tempted to dock “tribute” albums half a star for lack of originality but the quality of the musicianship and the sheer joyousness of the performances makes that prospect a non starter in this case. Of course it helps to be covering a composer of Petrucciani’s quality and there are some great tunes here which should ensure that this album is a regular returnee to my CD player.
Starace and his colleagues have captured the indomitable spirit of Petrucciani perfectly and the album has won the enthusiastic endorsement of Petrucciani’s brother Louis. Louis speaks of the joie de vivre of the performances, a point several other reviewers have picked up on. “Simply Marvellous” is ultimately a celebration of the human spirit and a hugely uplifting and enjoyable listening experience.
Starace’s British quartet are currently touring the album in the UK. The remaining dates are listed below;
Tommaso Starace - saxophone
Frank Harrison - piano
Laurence Cottle - bass guitar
Chris Nickolls - drums
Special guest: Damon Brown - trumpet (selected gigs only)
Concert Hall Approach, South Bank, London SE1 8XU
020 7928 9370
124 High Street, Rochester, Kent ME1 1JT
34 Bore Street, Lichfield, Staffordshire WS13 6LU
Wroxham Road, Rackheath, Norwich NR13 6NQ
Pizza Express Jazz Club,
10 Dean Street, London W1D 3RW
Wakefield Jazz Club,
Wakefield (College Grove) Sports Club, Eastmoor Road,
Wakefield WF1 3RR
Hive Media & Arts Centre,
5 Belmont, Shrewsbury SY1 1TE
Carswell Golf & Country Club,
Carswell Home Farm, Faringdon, Oxfordshire SN7 8PU
Harlow Cricket Club,
Chippingfield, Old Harlow, Essex CM17 0DJ
* with special guest Damon Brown
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Guest contributor Trevor Bannister interviews alto saxophonist Johnty Wilks and enjoys a live performance of his mellow, meditative music at the South Street Arts Centre, Reading.