Blood and Champagne album review
Feb. 2011 By Chris Parker (Londonjazz)
Milan-born saxophonist Tommaso Starace has been resident in the UK since studying at the Birmingham Conservatoire and the Guildhall in the 1990s, and his ebullient, tumbling alto and passionate soprano are backed on this, his fourth album as a leader, by a top-rank trio of UK-based players: pianist Frank Harrison, electric bassist Laurence Cottle and drummer Chris Nickolls. Starace himself has an abiding interest in mid-20th-century history (the title of this album nods to Hungarian photographer/photojournalist Robert Capa via the biography of the Magnum co-founder by Alex Kershaw), and his sound and approach (the declamatory fierceness of his alto often calls Sonny Criss or Jackie McLean to mind) are well suited to dramatising particular events. Accordingly, the album's opener, 'Il Tunnel della Libertà', inspired by the rescue of dozens of East Berliners by means of a 165-metre tunnel dug in 1962 by two Italian students, 'immediately sets a mood takes the audience on a journey, creating vivid images in their minds' (Starace's words), and the set's non- originals, whether overtly jazz-based (Michel Petrucciani's 'Even Mice Dance', Billy Strayhorn's 'Johnny Come Lately') or actual movie themes (Henry Mancini's Oscar-winning 'Days of Wine and Roses'), are also vibrantly evocative. In Harrison, of course, Starace has a fluent and graceful pianist well used to complementing passion and fire (he is a regular member of Gilad Atzmon's band), and the powerful but subtle rhythm team of Nickolls and Cottle (the latter tunefully propulsive as ever) perform flawlessly throughout; the title Blood & Champagne, conjuring up as it does life's intoxicating intensity, is well chosen: this is a heady, exuberant but affecting album.