Lighting up the Candles
Got a Match?
Once Upon A Time in America
Tommaso Starace’s latest album explores the trio setting. He is teamed
again with bassist Laurence Cottle but this is a first-time meeting with
the articulate pianist Jim Watson for this nine-track, 2019 album. In his
liner note Starace mentions that the repertoire choice was his and that the
disc itself is dedicated to the memory of one of his heroes, his compatriot
Ennio Morricone, who died a few months before the sessions.
The selected tunes are happily wide-ranging: Stevie Wonder, Sam Jones,
Bobby Timmons, Chick Corea (whose death was announced as I began writing
this review), Michel Petrucciani, Charlie Parker and Morricone himself.
There’s one original, Starace’s Nina, dedicated to his niece. The
disc begins with an ebulliently lyrical reading of Stevie Wonder’s Lighting Up The Candles, lightly flowing as fine wine and with
deft soloing all round. There’s another up-tempo bluesy swinger in the
shape of Sam Jones’ Del Sasser, where Watson really shines. That
old favourite This Here doesn’t disappoint, gospel-tinged and
lively but Starace himself slips away from obvious soloistic gesturing in
favour of straight-ahead virtues. Watson’s comping is powerful and Cottle’s
electric bass strong and teaky in a fine arrangement of Corea’s Got a Match?, another finely paced up-tempo number.
The central point of the album is Strace’s Nina, where mid-tempo
lyricism finds a perfect vehicle, an affectionate piece full of songful
charm. The trio takes an especially fine approach to what might, in some
other hands, be a rather too obvious tribute to Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in America. Instead, they approach the tune
stealthily, even tangentially, managing the feat of converting it into a
genuine jazz piece. The Latino charms of Brazilian Like, a
Petrucciani composition, see Starace pushed high in his register, and
Cottle drawing on a tangy, excellently mobile bass line. All the players
voice conspicuously well here. Good trades on Parker’s Segment
extend the variety to be heard on this hour-long disc and the finale track,
Pino Daniele’s Napule e’ allows Starace to extol the virtues of
his soprano playing as he draws every ounce of ballad richness from it.
Recorded before Covid-19 struck, but released in 2020, I hope it won’t be
too long before Starace is back with another disc that explores the kind of
variety that this one so richly demonstrates.