Over five years ago, we examined a then-new release by New York-based saxophonist Ada Rovatti. I still remember well how Green Factor impressed not just because of the impeccable chops of Rovatti, but also how she deftly blended in Celtic folk music with her usual fare of funky, potent electric jazz. Rovatti has kept quiet since then (on the music front, that is, as she has undoubtedly kept busy raising her beautiful daughter Stella with husband and trumpet legend Randy Brecker).
Rovatti’s participation in last year’s The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion signaled a return to the scene, and her long-awaited fifth album Disguise — out July 22, 2014 by Piloo Records — brings her full circle.
For this latest offering, Rovatti chooses not to stick with a certain theme but to focus on the contemporary jazz that she’s long mastered, in several permutations that also shows her diversity within a connected style. Electric bassist Janek Gwizdala is held over from Green Factor, as are guest musicians Adam Rogers (guitar) and Brecker, with Dana Hawkins (drums) Leo Genovese (keys), Oli Rockberger, Zach Brock (violin) and Anne Drummond (flute) helping out, as well as a guest spot by guitarist Dean Brown.
The eight tunes she contributed to this disc show no rust, she’s the same ol’ Ada who made those funky good records in the 00′s. It starts with “Ghost Stories,” which grooves with sax/flute unison note pattern that entices you to whistle along to it. With the Fender Rhodes backing from Rockberger, Drummond’s flute summons up the ghosts of 70s-version Hubert Laws and Rovatti’s own solo is pretty much spot on, too.
Latin rhythms provide a buoyant feel to “Alone In Traffic,” where Brecker’s flawless fluid delivery is as good as it’s ever been. For “TBA,” Rovatti on soprano sax teams up with the third sparring partner in as many tracks, this time, Brock and his violin. They sound so tight together through a vigorous rhythm section, I could have stood for a whole album of that pairing. Brock returns for the straight jazz number “Tripping Step,” which like the fusion-ish tunes incorporates a lot of subtle changes.
Rovatti takes on Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” a popular cover choice lately, first with a dazzling a capella performance and then a warm performance with the band. She and Brecker together combine for a reading of Jimmy Page’s fingerpicked intro to “Stairway To Heaven” that brings real majesty to the song, and then traverse across varying readings of the main melody that’s funky and rocks, too, thanks to Rogers’ tasty lead guitar.
The tunes are solid and so are the arrangements, but there’s no disguising good playing and Disguise has all of those things out in the clear open. A welcome return to form for Ada Rovatti.