I’ve noticed that some of the most interesting and original jazz releases lately are coming from Europe, either with European players or American musicians who can’t find an interested label in the U.S. Tommaso Starace is of Italian and Australian extraction and currently is based in London. He found that upon visiting photography exhibits he was frequently excited by the way a photograph could spark off a creative process in him. One of the photographers who has most inspired him has been U.S.-based Elliott Erwitt. Erwitt’s personal style is seen in a wide variety of books and magazines. Among them are at least eight collections on dogs. Irony and humor are often seen in his photos. He was also president of Magnum Photo agency.
Erwitt allowed Starace to use eight of his photographs in performances by his quintet. The saxist composed different jazz tunes inspired by the photos and they are performed while the photos are projected on a large screen so the audience can look at the images while hearing the music for each of them. The CD uses the same eight photos, and the highly humorous front cover is titled “Felix, Gladys and Rover.” Starace writes a short description to go with each photo, and this one he dedicates “to little Rover who probably went clothes shopping on Fifth Avenue to look so cool.” The listener is urged to listen at the very end of the track for Rover’s high-pitched bark. Some of the photos are very serious and the music is appropriately so. One, for example, shows a train leaving a Budapest station. Starace gave the bass and drums a groove he felt described the train embarking on a long journey, and minor harmony follows the sad mood of the women’s faces.
This is a unique concept of matching images and music that reminded me of such classical works as Gunther Schuller’s Paul Klee suite or even Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Starace has a swinging bebop style but stays in the tonal area. I tend to prefer the higher sax voices, so his alto and soprano were right up my alley, and they blend well with the vibes and piano – giving plenty of opportunity for interesting chordal support to his solos. Sonics are fine and the alternative-to-jewelbox packaging is lovely, with photos of Starace playing in the street, as also photographed by Erwitt.
Tracks: Keep Moving Please!, Set Me Free (Lament of a Mannequin), Goodbyes, Tickets…Please!, Spinning Out of Control, Felix Gladys and Rover, Loving Gloves, Tongue in Cheek.
– John Henry