(Cristal Records CR 217. Review by Andy Boeckstaens)
Antonio Faraò is an Italian pianist in his late 40’s with a substantial career already behind him. He has made several recordings as a leader, collaborated with Lee Konitz and Dave Liebman and received plaudits from Herbie Hancock and Kenny Kirkland, yet exposure outside his own country has been relatively limited.
This CD, recorded in March 2013 in New York, brings Faraò together with three top-flight Americans. Another Way begins with a strong bass vamp by Ira Coleman. When Jack De Johnette joins in on drums and the theme is stated by Joe Lovano’s tenor saxophone, you immediately feel that this is going to be something special. What you don’t know is that Faraò is not to be outclassed, and his wonderful, confident solo is the first of many in a performance of barely contained ecstasy.
Joe Lovano’s approach is becoming more distinctive and quirky with the passing of the years. On So Near and Tough he glides, flutters, dives and soars like an experienced pilot who enjoys negotiating challenging conditions with calmness and control. It is ironic that he is absent from perhaps the most attractive track, the waltz Per Caso. The crisp execution by the piano trio is gorgeous, and brings out the stunning beauty of the melody. Coleman also takes an excellent solo here.
All but two of the nine pieces are by Faraò. The delicate, soprano-led bossa nova Roma nun fa la stupida stasera is the work of the celebrated pianist, conductor and (predominantly film-music) composer Armando Trovajoli, who died very shortly before this recording was made.
The other “cover” follows immediately. There is a free-ish intro for tenor sax and piano; as Lovano lays out, Coleman and De Johnette create a strong groove alongside Faraò. After the only drum solo of the session, the saxophone re-enters and Giant Steps (John Coltrane) is gradually unfurled. The familiar theme is stated only at the very end. It’s an object-lesson in how to keep a rather overdone tune fresh, without being unnecessarily obscure.
Two selections feature Judi Silvano’s wordless vocals. Her ethereal, electronically-processed voice bookends the title track, Evan (dedicated to Faraò’s son), the middle of which sees fine solos for double bass and soprano sax. More electronics on Riflessioni create a weirdly impressionistic effect, but it is drearily repetitive and goes nowhere.
The closing Two Faces is an adventurous composition with a rhythm that shifts swiftly from smooth to spiky. There’s a lot going on; everyone stretches out and plays hard. Here and elsewhere, De Johnette is superb, even in an essentially supporting role. Always listening and alert, he inserts little rolls, subtle fills and the occasional crash, and propels things along with an unstoppable, inimitable drive.
Faraò has sidemen to die for, but ultimately the success of this recording is in the pianist’s hands. He contributes a great solo to almost every track and has produced a truly thrilling album.
Antonio Faraò will be playing with French violinist Didier Lockwood at Ronnie Scott’s on 25th and 26th February (TICKETS).
Joe Lovano and Jack De Johnette will be appearing at the Barbican Hall on 7th April (TICKETS).