Some years ago I reviewed Ponte Novello (CAP, 2001) by pianist Jay D'Amico's trio (augmented on four tracks by a string section), and was impressed by the way in which he transposed operatic arias by Puccini, Bellini and Verdi, among others, to the jazz idiom, leaving their inherent beauty intact while proving that those masters have much to say to a contemporary audience if their music is prudently amended under the proper circumstances.
Tuscan Prelude is a collection of original compositions that once again draws on his background and heritage to present modern jazz with savory classical/Italian seasoning. If one were asked to describe his recipe in a word, the word "tasteful" might leap to mind, or perhaps "elegant." D'Amico's themes are invariably handsome, and the trio approaches them with respect and decorum, rather like the Modern Jazz Quartet without Milt Jackson's vibraphone.
So is this chamber jazz? For the most part, yes, depending upon one's definition of the genre. The performance certainly validates its subtitle, Jazz Under Glass. On the other hand, there are passages on almost every number that swing freely, usually following the thematic development, as D'Amico never turns his back (or keyboard) completely to jazz's inherent bedrock. Even so, D'Amico won't ever be mistaken for McCoy Tyner, Oscar Peterson or even John Lewis (although he comes closest there). His colleagues, bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Ronnie Zito, are wholly supportive, allowing D'Amico to bask in the limelight while they render decent and unobtrusive impressions of Percy Heath and Connie Kay. Johnson is adept with a bow, Zito likewise with brushes, and they use them quite often.
Even though Tuscan Prelude's 39:49 playing time is less than half a CD's maximum length, what's there is lovely music, performed with unerring style and grace by three remarkably talented musicians. If you're a fan of the MJQ, it is all but guaranteed to please.
Personnel: Jay D'Amico: piano; Marc Johnson: bass (1-10); Ronnie Zito: drums (1-10); Greg D'Amico: bass (11); Vinnie Favata: drums (11).