Tommasso Starace Quartet – Blood And Champagne – Music Center BA 270 CD, 66:35 ****:
(Tommasso Starace – alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Frank Harrison – piano; Lawrence Cottle – electric bass; Chris Nickolls – drums)
In the parallel jazz world, Tommasso Starace grew up in Milan, Italy, but developed a fascination with this foreign art form. A late starter by some standards (he began studying saxophone at the age of eighteen), he eventually moved to England where he graduated from the Birmingham Conservatory and the prestigious Guildhall School Of Music and Drama. His initial distinction arose from his collaboration with Dario Marionaelli (Pride And Prejudice, Atonement soundtracks) for the BBC drama, This Little Life. Starace has performed with a variety of respected jazz musicians including, Billy Cobham, David Liebman, Jim Mullen, Kenny Wheeler, among others. Citing a widely divergent group of influences like Cannonball Adderly, Maurice Ravel, Ennio Morricone, Stevie Wonder and Joshua Redman, his playing resonates with expressive melodic harmonics and fragmented exploration.
Blood And Champagne unveils a bandleader possessing a flair for creative interpretation. With a discerning balance of original compositions and covers, Starace and his quartet (a stalwart group of UK musicians), breeze through nine tracks with assured alchemy. The opening track, “Il Tunnel Della Liberta (The Tunnel Of Freedom)” conveys the story of an heroic escape from East Germany by an expatriated Italian. Starace alto lead is crisp and forceful as it segues into a vivacious solo by Frank Harrison. The global narrative of danger is continued on the title cut with a cutting, pure bop lead. Starace is capable of great emotional intensity, and Harrison’s more lyrical play creates a nice equilibrium. Equally adept at soprano, “Soundtrack” conjures up the atmospheric tone of cinema with a nuanced interpretation.
The quartet adds creativity to some of the covers. “The Days Of Wine And Roses”, receives a cooler, groove treatment. Rolling alto runs, bass solo and repetitive breaks highlight this unusual version of a renowned standard. Flexing some classical muscle, the group combines Chopin’s “Prelude No. 20 in C minor” with a take on the late Michael Petrucciani’s jazz waltz, “Even Mice Can Dance”. Revisiting movie themes, a slower rhythm is delivered on the elegant Ennio Morricone “Nuevo Cinema Paradiso”. The tandem of Starace (this time on soprano) and Harrison explore the suppleness of the song with dexterity.
This band is proficient with original material and a wide array of existing templates. Tommasso Starace is an emerging jazz bandleader with great promise.
TrackList: Il Tunnel Della Liberta; Soundtrack; Prelude No. 20 in Cmin Op 28/Even Mice Dance; Johnny Come Lately; Nuevo Cinema Paradiso/Cinema Theme; Days Of Wine And Roses; Intercalare; The Party’s Over; Blood And Champagne
— Robbie Gerson