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TOMMASO STARACE – The Power of Three

Tommaso Starace (alto and soprano saxophones): Jim Watson (piano): Laurence Cottle (bass)

Recorded Chapel Arts Gallery, Cheltenham, UK, October 2019




Lighting up the Candles

Del Sasser

This Here

Got a Match?


Once Upon A Time in America

Brazilian Like


Napule e’

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.

Jonathan Woolf

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