Lichfield Real Ale, Jazz and Blues Festival 2010

Sept. 2010 By Ian Mann (

Starace with his fluent, effortless sound proved to be one of the outstanding instrumentalists of the whole festival.

This year’s RAJB was blessed with gloriously hot, sunny weather with hardly the hint of a cloud in the sky. In reality this turned out to be something of a mixed blessing, the interior of the splendid new marquee the festival was using for the first time this year was little short of stifling. If it was hot for the fans it was even worse for the musicians up on stage under the lights. In any other field of employment they’d have probably been sent home under the health and safety laws but true troupers that they are they got up there and delivered the diverse mix of music this festival is famous for. As for the real ale it was almost too hot for beer drinking and as a dedicated CAMRA member I never thought I’d hear myself say that. In these conditions even one lunchtime pint would probably have sent me to sleep and given me a raging headache so with my journo’s hat on I disciplined myself and waited until the evening when it was cooler before having a couple of pints. On Sunday I was driving and didn’t touch the beer at all. On a personal note it was the driest beer festival I’ve ever attended.


Luckily the music more than made up for any enforced abstinence. Saturday was kicked off by Italian saxophonist Tomasso Starace and his quartet. Now based in Highgate, London Starace plays alto and soprano saxophones with a remarkable degree of fluency. His English quartet here comprised of pianist Frank Harrison, best known for his work with Gilad Atzmon who was to appear later, Loop Collective member Will Collier on bass plus Chris Nicholls at the drums. The Starace quartet played a mixture of standards and originals and were the most conventionally “jazzy” group on the entire festival programme. 

The group’s lengthy excursions included some brilliant playing from all four members of the quartet. They opened with Starace’s urgent, boppish “The Tunnel Of Freedom”, a good introduction to the voices of the band with sparkling solos from Starace on alto and Harrison at the piano and with Nicholls enjoying a series of drum breaks.

Starace likes to base his compositions on real events and “Tunnel” was inspired by the story of expatriate Italians tunnelling under the Berlin Wall to escape to the West. He also has an interest in photography and has released an album inspired by the pictures of Elliott Erwitt. There was certainly a cinematic quality about the following piece “Soundtrack”, an episodic item featuring Starace’s serpentine soprano, the lyrical piano of Harrison and the warm, resonant bass of Collier.

Starace’s choice of outside material was interesting and avoided the most obvious old chestnuts. “Even Mice Dance” was a welcome reminder of the compositional talents of the late French pianist Michel Petrucciani. The piece was recorded on an album that featured Petrucciani alongside another fallen star, the drummer Tony Williams plus the great Dave Holland on bass. Petrucciani took his inspiration from Chopin’s “C Minor Prelude” and Harrison began here on solo piano, his lightness of touch serving Chopin’s melody well. The infectious “Dance” itself featured Starace soloing seamlessly on alto on a tune that is a celebration of life itself. It’s ironic that its composer should have died so young.

To close the first set the quartet played “Coffee Shop”, written by another Italian alto player Rosaro Giuliani, a one time member of trumpeter Guy Barker’s band. “He solos like a pit bull” said Starace before digging in himself above Nicholls’ relentless funk groove. Harrison also dazzled at the piano and the solid Nicholls slammed out a tasty solo to finish the first set on an energetic high note.

Later in the day the quartet returned and began with a segue that paired Billy Strayhorn’s “Johnny Come Lately” with Ennio Morricone’s “Theme From Cinema Paradiso”. The more forceful Strayhorn piece featured Starace on soprano plus Harrison and Nicholls. Morricone’s theme was more lyrical and featured some delightfully limpid piano from Harrison, a touch of arco bass from Collier plus the finely detailed but sympathetic drumming of Nicholls.

Starace switched to alto for Oscar Pettiford’s “Bohemia After Dark”, a tune made famous by Julian “Cannonball” Adderley , presumably one of Starace’s early inspirations. Played in a tricky bop inspired 7/4 the piece included rousing solos from Starace and Harrison.

Starace’s own “Intercolare” proved to be an enjoyable blues with Starace’s soprano solos bookending and framing outings from Harrison and Collier. The quartet rounded off an excellent afternoon’s work with the standard “Days Of Wine And Roses” with Starace and Harrison again outstanding. Harrison is one of Britain’s best and most versatile young pianists and Starace with his fluent, effortless sound proved to be one of the outstanding instrumentalists of the whole festival. It was the first time I’d seen him perform and I was highly impressed. Whether on his own tunes or those of others he’s just full of good ideas and articulates them superbly.

The quartet had certainly earned their money in the unforgiving heat. Even the cool Italian, who if my wife was anything to go by certainly set female hearts a-fluttering, was looking ruffled. Nevertheless a great start to the day and Starace sold a gratifying number of albums to a pretty lengthy queue. They went down a storm.