Tommaso Starace plays The Power of 3 at Chichester Jazz Club

Another Friday, another trip to Chichester Jazz Club, this time to hear alto saxophonist Tommaso Starace on his penultimate gig before his move to the warmer climes of Spain. Tommaso was joined by Jim Watson at the piano and Danny Moss Jr. who played double bass. All the tunes performed were covers and it was Sam Jones’ ‘Del Sasser’, as performed by Cannonball Adderley on the album Them Dirty Blues, that got the show on the road. This was a wonderful trio opener at a good tempo, but it wasn’t long before Tommaso stepped back and allowed Jim and Danny to show what they were made of. When the alto sax did return it did so with the most wonderful soaring note that had the gentleman sat next to me whooping with delight. We then got a bit of sax/piano trading with the bass of Danny Moss Jr, anchoring the rhythm: great stuff!

Photo by Fiorenzo Pellegatta at Art Blackey Jazz Club, Busto Arsizio 12th December 2011

The second number began with a solo sax section before the bass and piano came in with Ellington’s ‘Caravan’. The alto provided a middle eastern feel while the piano of Jim Watson played in and around the melody to give this version variety. The bass playing was strong and as an improvising trio they delivered a fresh take on a well-worn jazz standard. The Bobby Timmons number ‘This Year’ is built around repeating phrases with a light gospel feel. Piano and bass once again played a very good duo section with some very nice sliding bass notes from Danny before the trio re-emerged and those repeating phrases from the opening bars.

‘If I Should Lose You’, as with other tunes, had Tommaso set the tune before handing over to the bass and piano. It does need to be said that when Tommaso steps back he is not disengaged, in fact quite the opposite: he can be seen, and heard, clicking his fingers and sounding short sharp yelps of encouragement from the side of the stage. The first set closed with ‘Autumn In New York’ – and as soon as it was called there were positive utterances from the audience – and this was one of the most exquisite, controlled, tonally beautiful versions of this tune I have heard live and it fully deserved the tumultuous round of applause that came when the final note faded out.

The second set began with Tommaso teaching the audience how to yodel in Italian – I have no idea why and no real explanation was forthcoming. Once the yodelling had finished the band launched into the Miles Davis tune ‘Four’ played in trio-duo-trio formation with a terrific bass solo from Danny Moss Jr. This was followed by the Horace Silver number ‘Nica’s Dream’ and was the first time that Tommaso played in the upper register of the alto. ‘Brazilian Like’ was written by Michel Petrucciani – a pianist I always enjoy listening to – and Jim Watson did a fantastic job of establishing the Brazilian vibe. The alto sax sound did change the feel of the piece as it softened and rounded out the sound. Tommaso employed the range of his instrument moving up and down the register but always in full control, cleanly and with the fullest of tone.

Charlie Parker’s ‘Passport’ came next and was the brightest of the tunes played all evening. There was a vibrancy to this number with its jaunty, at times angular, approach and the trio-duo-trio format. I did begin think that it would have been nice to hear the trio play this tune all the way through, not matter how good Jim Watson and Danny Moss Jr, are. That thought quickly dissipated when Jim really got going with some quite physical playing, great improvisational work and the dropping of ‘I Got Rhythm’ into the mix: this was top level high energy performing and highly enjoyable. The final number, ‘In A Sentimental Mood’, calmed everything down and showed how well this trio can play tender music without it becoming too saccharine.

I very much enjoyed this booking and hearing jazz standards played so well that their familiarity did not tip over into boredom just emphasized why I find jazz music so fascinating. I was clearly listening to three very good musicians who knew the music, respected the music, but were not afraid to play with the music in their improvisations.

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