Opening with the chestnut, Night in Tunisia, Mario Romano Quartet brings a “Latin tinge” to the debut album, Valentina. It’s hard to imagine that a man who runs a construction company in Toronto, Mario Romano also possesses an extraordinary gift as a pianist. In fact, the press notes cite that Romano waited 40 years before following through on his passion for music. In a way that ‘s a shame, given that jazz audiences waited 4 decades to enjoy Romano’s musical gift. But on the other hand, he brings maturity, grace, and elegance to his debut album. Sometimes we just have to wait.
Romano’s Latin-style piano playing is immersed in Pat LaBarbera’s stunning tenor saxophone, Mark Kelso’s syncopated drumming; and held down by Roberto Occhipinti’s bass. The four musicians travel through mostly jazz standards such as Dizzy Gillespie’s Night in Tunisia, the Beatles’ Norwegian Wood, Jacques Pervert Autumn Leaves (perfect timing guys!), Miles Davis’ Nardis and others. Romano and Occhipinti both contribute original songs to the classic mix.
The interpretations and arrangements feel spot on to me, with thick chunky Coltrane-like saxophone, Latin jazz piano, and a tight rhythm section. I’m a fan of melodic jazz, but I don’t mind a few twists and turns, as long as the players return me to familiar territory. This quartet takes that more adventurous route, the one with notes hanging over a cliff’s edge, a few wild hairpin turns, but then a return to safe ground, musically-speaking. The interpretation of Norwegian Wood follows this recipe, and I bet John Lennon turns over in his grave, asking why the Beatles’ didn’t take the more bohemian route.
The Autumn Leaves on this recording portrays a melancholic feeling (during the introduction), that would bring tears to Edith Piaf’s eyes. The piano ripples along with a plaintiff saxophone which performs the melody, then the piano takes off with a Latin jazz groove along with drums and bass—gorgeous! Romano’s original, Those Damn I Love Yous features album mate, Kristy (Cardinali) on vocals, and a lush string arrangement. Overall, this vibrant debut is going to turn heads and receive its share of kudos. But I have to ask, Mario Romano, why did you make us wait?