(Emarcy/ Universal Italia. CD Review by Alison Hoblyn)
Feeling blue? Settle down and put on Tommaso Starace’s new CD Simply Marvellous.
When I did (not in the best of heart) I just listened to the pictures. Not going to think of anything clever to say, just tell it like I see it. And what floated into mind immediately was sitting in a bar on the top of a Manhattan skyscraper; feeling stylish and uplifted. It was the best kind of sophisticated and melodic jazz for elevating mood.
Starace, a saxophonist with a storytelling approach, works between Italy, Switzerland and the UK and performs here with his Italian Quartet; Michele di Toro, piano – his playing articulate and bright toned, Attilio Zanchi, grounding it all with responsive bass and Tommy Bradascio, doing a fine job on the batteria (drums).
This album is a celebration of the work of Michel Petrucciani, French composer and pianist beloved of the American jazz scene, who died far too early in 1999 at age 36. Petrucciani had osteogenesis – a condition that led to brittle bones, extremely short stature and constant pain. He might have simply endured life – but it wasn’t the route he chose to take. He remarked that ‘sometimes I think someone upstairs saved me from being ordinary’. So he played with Jarrett-like technique and composed instrumentals that he liked to call ‘songs’, which flow along. This style is reflected in Starace’s interpretation; Starace’s voice-imitative saxophone plays the melodic line and there’s a notable absence of heavy shifts from player to player. Petrucciani deemed the practise of this kind of pausing (maybe for the possibility of a nice audience clap after solos) ‘old fashioned’. With Starace’s quartet there’s just a subtle change of focus and always a sense of the musicians’ enjoyment of playing together.
On Guadeloupe, with its cheering Latin rhythm, guest trumpeter Fabrizio Bossi dialogues with Starace’s crisp sax playing. In ‘Even Mice Dance’ there’s a teasing intro of Chopin’s dark Prelude no.20, improvised by di Toro and gradually drawing in the others, lightening the mood in the process. The one non-Petrucciani composition is written by Starace, dedicated to the French pianist with the title Marvellous (the name of one of Petrucciani’s albums , in turn dedicated to the life he loved.)
As for the music making one feel less ‘blue’, it’s an apt metaphor; Petrucciani liked to say he could see colours in the music (G major to him was green) and Petrucciani’s brother Louis praises Starace in the sleeve notes for his ‘very beautiful colours which retrace Michel’s steps’. And as an extra dimension on this CD, there’s the enticement of guest musician Roger Beaujolais on vibraphone – an instrument and a musician combining the uplifting with the stylish.
The track that ignited the imagination of the New York bar is appropriately called Looking Up. Watching a documentary on Petrucciani, the last scenes show him playing his piano on the roof of a Manhattan skyscraper – and honestly, I didn’t see that first! What comes over strongly in the album is a sense of positivity. The music is a marvellous tonic. Its composer refused to be confined by his physical disabilities; ‘My philosophy is to have a really good time and never let anything stop me from doing what I want to do’, he said. Starace says it’s that enjoyment and freedom they feel when they play – and it’s obvious. This set of musicians has produced a celebration of not only a life but life in general.