When left to his own devices, pianist/composer Frank Strazzeri--an adaptive fellow who has backed everyone from Chet Baker and Stan Getz to Elvis Presley--most always returns to the be-bop-based jazz that has long been the foundation of his craft. That was how it was Wednesday at St. Mark's in Venice, where the compact, soft-spoken artist led a first-rate quintet in a "live" recording session for the Fresh Sounds label of Barcelona, Spain.
The six tunes that made up the unpretentious but rewarding opening set were democratically chosen: there were three alluring Strazzeri originals at various tempi, two jazz classics--Tadd Dameron's "On a Misty Night" and Kenny Dorham's "Una Mas"--and the winsome standard, "They Say It's Wonderful." All were deftly arranged and orchestrated, and featured the frontline of saxophonist Bill Perkins and trombonist Thurman Green, men whose dusky, glowing tones made the leader's harmonized lines come quietly alive. The horns received crisp support from Strazzeri, bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Joe LaBarbera. (The latter--known for his work with pianist Bill Evans--was on a brief leave from backing singer Tony Bennett).
Strazzeri's Bud Powell-tinged solos, delivered with a ringing, even touch, flowed as he went from one interesting idea to another, usually packing these statements with a rhythmic punch that made the music move. His gentle and graceful approach on "Misty Night," a lovely concoction, mirrored the spirit of the tune, and on the swiftly-moving "Peaceful Moments," he offered intricate stuff with articulation and backbone.
Perkins and Green provided pleasing improvisational diversity. The tenorman, who established himself with Stan Kenton in the '50s, often roared forth with an edgy modernity that made one think of Wayne Shorter, skipping from cascading scales to pole-vault-like leaps on "Moments" and "Journey to the East." Green, a devotee of J.J. Johnson but clearly his own man, used statements of a smaller scope to tell his stories in a more subtle, but nonetheless compelling, manner.
Senatore and LaBarbera pushed and prodded the band, adding excitement and flavor throughout.