Half Notes: Mario Romano Quartet – Valentino (2010)

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by S. Victor Aaron

Here’s the setup: a successful real estate tycoon suddenly decides to revisit his original passion, music, and pulls in three of Canada’s most prestigious jazz musicians and a top-notch producer to make his first record, one full of done-to-death standards. And you’re thinking, this is probably going to be a very competent but very boring, vanity project album, right? You’d be wrong. Valentina, by real estate developer and pianist Mario Romano does get the expected lift from guys the caliber of Pat LaBarbera (tenor sax), Mark Kelso (drums), and Roberto Occhipitti (bass), but it’s not just that. Romano is legit force on the piano. But the biggest thing going for the album are the arrangements. Sure, they follow pretty much the same chord progressions, but the tempos are more aggressive, the bass lines are often changed up and the players are putting in crisp, enthusiastic performances (Romano himself lets it fly on “On Green Dolphin Street”). A handful of originals find their way here, including Romano’s “Those Damn I Love Yous,” featuring the vocal talents of Kristy Cardinali. Vocal jazz plopped in the middle of instrumental jazz can often disturb the groove, but in this case, the genteel, “with strings” three minute piece functions as a fresh breather. So, no, Valentino ain’t no vanity project. This is serious business. Seriously good, that is.

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