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Mario Romano Quartet: Valentina

Edward Blanco By

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Canadian pianist Mario Romano—founder and president of the Castlepoint Group—is well-known in the Toronto Italian-Canadian community—not so much as a pianist, but as a major player in the real estate development industry. Valentina, is Romano's first album as a leader, returning to jazz music after nearly four decades of deferring to development deals. While unfamiliar to most jazz audiences, during the early '70s he was a highly regarded young gun on the Toronto jazz scene. A serious and committed musician, Romano possesses an unquestioned command of the piano, gained from studies at the Royal Conservatory and York University.

Joining the leader on this first outing are three of Canada's finest jazz musicians—each a star in their own right. American-born/Canadian saxophonist Pat La Barbera states that the album is "one of the best records for the sound of my saxophone." Drummer Mark Kelso and renowned bassist Roberto Occhipinti round out a very formidable quartet, providing the recognition in the jazz world that the pianist may currently be lacking. On the only Romano original song, "Those Damn I Love Yous," the pianist features Toronto jazz vocalist Kristy Cardinali on a brief but beautiful warm ballad with strings.

Bassist Occhipinti contributes the only other original chart to the nine-piece repertoire, tipping his hat to the pianist with the vibrant up tempo "Via Romano." The meat of the recording centers on creative new interpretations of jazz classics like "On Green Dolphin Street," Miles Davis' "Nardis," and the Joseph Kosma/Johnny Mercer standard, "Autumn Leaves." The album opens up with an especially energetic arrangement of Dizzy Gillespie's defining "Night In Tunisia," highlighting LaBarbera's wizardry on the tenor.

Romano's skills as an arranger are aptly demonstrated on classic Lennon/McCartney pop tune "Norwegian Wood," building an intricate and hard-driving sound on an already challenging melody. Occhipinti takes the limelight on Chick Corea's "Windows," with stunning bass lines on both the introduction and a later solo. Saving a bit of the best for last, Romano closes the session with a soft rendition of "Someday "My Prince Will Come," featuring drummer Kelso's soft brush strokes and the piano man's light touches on the keys, fading out the music with grace and style.

Though many years have gone by since Romano first touched the used piano his father brought home one day, his talent as a musician has not diminished, as this long-awaited debut demonstrates. Clearly, and without reservation, Mario Romano's Valentina, makes a powerful musical statement in an auspicious debut of colossal proportions, from an unheralded artist whose time has finally come—after a forty-year interruption.

Track Listing: Night In Tunisia; Norwegian Wood; Autumn Leaves; Nardis; Those Damn I Love Yous; On Green Dolphin Street; Windows; Via Romano; Someday My Prince Will Come.

Personnel: Mario Romano: piano; Pat LaBarbera: tenor saxophone; Mark Kelso: drums; Roberto Occhipinti: bass.

Title: Valentina | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Alma Records

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