Tommaso Starace Quartet at Black Mountain Jazz, Abergavenny

November 26, 2019 by


Anglo-Italian saxophonist Tommaso Starace has long been standard-bearer for Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, who himself has long been resident in the Jazz Hall of Fame. Their playing styles on alto sax are different but Starace clearly recognises the earthier origins of Adderley’s in Blues and Gospel music.

Adderley could claim fame by association if his own career as a band leader were not historically significant in its own right. Charlie Parker’s influence on him as a post-war modernist did not mean that drawing on earlier genres created a discordance of styles. On the contrary, it probably won bigger audiences to the less frenetic developments of jazz in the 1940s and 1950s. As a member of Miles Davis bands, Adderley appeared on two of the most influential recordings in jazz history: Milestones and Kind Of Blue.

Paying tributes in popular music is all the rage. It’s where a degree of mimicry is needed – total when the homage is to a rock band. In jazz, simulacra tend to be more low-key or virtually non-existent. For Starace in his salute to Adderley it required little more than identifying some charts associated with him and giving the upper register of the alto a ‘fatter’ sound. It also meant a certain amount of Blues ‘wailing’ as a rest from Parkeresque note flurries; though there were more than enough of them as there were, if to a lesser degree, in Adderley’s own playing.

Who should turn up in the Starace quartet at Abergavenny’s Black Mountain Jazz Club for its final monthly gig of 2019 – the leader referred to the town as ‘Abracadabra’, and there definitely is a modicum of magic in the air – but one of Europe’s finest in the pianist David Newton? The quartet personnel for these club visits varies but even Starace couldn’t resist reminding the audience that to have Newton on board was something special.

Adderley rarely appeared on his own in a group. There were always other horns, notably his cornettist/trumpeter brother, Nat, and of course Davis and John Coltrane. His band membership, and his own ensembles, meant he shared duties up front with them. Starace, with piano, bass (Al Swainger) and drums (Paolo Adamo) behind him was in theory on his own.

From the start then, with Bobby Timmons’s Dis Here, Starace was chasing more choruses than Adderley and his various bands would have deemed appropriate. Sometimes they were supernumerary, sometimes not. It depended on when and where he left off for Newton to hang out his choruses with playing that drew on present context and huge past experience – of many styles, it has to be said. What we got from Starace every time though, was the bold Adderley-style statement of the tunes that made him famous. Timmons was once Adderley’s pianist.

Starace is an amiable musician at this kind of gig, reminding us of how Adderley, waiting to listen to the Oscar Pettiford Band at Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village, was invited to step up as a replacement for tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse, who hadn’t arrived. Adderley was known to everyone by reputation, but this was his big moment. In a piece written by Sam Jones, his bassist from 1959 to 1965, the alto-tenor comparison of Rouse and his stand-in was drawn. Often blowing hard enough to lift the reed, Starace convinced us that Adderley’s alto often sounded as though it were being played as a tenor. Here the formal presentation of tunes was spiced with trading between alto, piano and drums. It made a change from washing-lines of impro throughout the evening, some of it a little tired.

Pianist Bill Evans was Adderley’s colleague in Davis’s Kind Of Blue band, and his Waltz for Debby was performed as almost everyone plays it, as an opening and closing theme in three-four with a central episode in unashamed common time. Evans himself played the middle as a fascinating duel between the two, a sort of speeded up waltz played against an American Smooth, as it were. In Joe Zawinul’s Scotch and Water and Randy Weston’s Hi-Fly, Newton’s chordal contributions (with no other instrument to combine directly with the alto for harmony and colour) were paramount, and for the latter included some delightfully mild left-hand stomping in the Erroll Garner manner. On Coltrane’s Grand Central, from the days when the alto-tenor relationship was an accomplished fact on recordings with Adderley and Coltrane, Starace and Newton held their own. It’s a fearsome piece.

Work Song, the classic Adderleys tune composed by Nat, reprised the Gospelly groove of the Timmons opener, and there were also references to Stan Getz in bossa nova mood and the pianist-composer Michel Petrucciani. Swainger and Adamo took a few perfunctory solos and might have been made more of when one considered that a lone horn was trying more or less successfully to re-create a style which always relied on at least one other. But as a tribute, it was enough to go back to the originals. What more could one have asked?

Black Mountain Jazz resumes its monthly presentations in February with an appearance by the jazz-World Music group Talinka, to be followed by young UK jazz piano sensation Fergus McCreadie and his trio.

Leave a Reply