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Dave Santoro - Standards Band II

DTRCD - 165

Jerry Bergonzi - Tenor Sax
Renato Chicco - Piano
Dave Santoro - Bass
Tom Melito - Drums

1. This Love Of Mine
2. What Is This Thing
     Called Love
3. You’d Be So Nice
    To Come Home To
4. Tenderly
5. The Song Is You
6. All Or Nothing At All
7. Surrey With A
    Fringe On Top
8. This Is New
Total Time (64:47)

Listen to CD Tracks

In this exuberant follow-up to one of the great albums of 1999, Dave Santoro: Standards Band (Double-Time DTRCD-151), the all-star bassist is back with another compelling program of bracingly reconfigured classics that brings us something old, new, borrowed and blue. It’s a combination that in the capable hands of Santoro’s band offers energized performances of sound-of-surprise originality that help us reassess and re-appreciate the timeless qualities of indelible lines like “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To.” At the same time, Santoro’s quartet suggests the infinite interpretive possibilities lying within the contours of such classic fare as “All or Nothing at All,” and therefore the potential of discovering the new within the fabric of the presumably already known.

  Indeed, standards are standards largely because they invite reinterpretation by successive generations of creative musicians. Their well-known melodies, lyrics and chordal sequences are integral elements of our collective cultural consciousness, anchoring a thousand-and-one individual and societal memories of high school proms, Hollywood movies, and Broadway shows. Having stood the test of time by particularizing so much of our personal experience within the larger currents of popular culture, the standards — which Alec Wilder described so simply and eloquently in American Popular Song (1972) — have provided lasting melodies whose enduring parameters are as fixed and also as malleable as Shakespeare’s archetypal plots and characters.

  Like the dramatic probing of the soul in Hamlet or the mirthful accounting of foibles and follies in As You Like It, tunes such as “The Song Is You” capture vital aspects of the human experience that regardless of changes in style are never out of fashion. Just as Shakespeare’s plays have been re-staged by successive generations in response to society’s immediate needs, so, too, have the standards of Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood. When those “re-stagings” have been carried out by masters such as Parker, Coltrane or Jarrett — and, here, the extraordinary musicians of Santoro’s quartet — we have been privileged to contemplate and appreciate the past through the lenses of the present and, indeed, the future. When mature musicians like Santoro, Bergonzi, Melito and Chicco “speak,” past, present and future fuse into a virtual now, collapsing and refiguring both space and time. In the process, everything, again, is new.

  In bringing to bear his dynamic vision, the affable bassist explained that the goal of Dave Santoro’s Standards Band Volume 2 was “to continue presenting songs from the great American songbook that, while acknowledging the traditions of our predecessors, are in our own style. Also, it presents Jerry in a fashion that many people haven’t heard. For the twenty years that we’ve worked together, playing standards is one of his favorite things, especially in live performance. We’re coming from the same place, having listened to the same music — Coltrane, Miles, Sonny — while growing up. When we get together, the music blends those experiences, elevating things to another level.” Indeed, it does.

  In addition to Dave’s supple pulse and Jerry Bergonzi’s blazing tenor, the date features the lithe time-keeping of drummer Tom Melito, an East Coast mainstay who’s helped power groups led by tenormen Steve Grossman, Ken Peplowski and Lew Tabackin, and who also played a key role in the success of Dave’s first Standards Band release. New to the group, at least as far as recording is concerned, is Renato Chicco, a tastefully understated accompanist and stylish neo-bop soloist.

  “Renato was pianist for Jon Hendricks for some time. He’s from Slovenia, and splits his time between New York and Verona, Italy. He’s played with all of us in various combinations since the early-1990s. He attended Berklee on a scholarship in the early-1980s before moving to New York, where he’s established himself as one of the best accompanists and soloists.”

  Bergonzi, the post-Coltrane tenorist who “sings” with heart-on-sleeve, is simply one of today’s bona fide originals, a searing player whose tumultuous yet lyrical style never fails to impress. As for Santoro, well, he’s a tower of subtle power whose plummy sound, swinging gait, and joie de vivre recall the aplomb of such masters as Paul Chambers, Sam Jones and Ray Brown. In addition to his own groups and the various collaborations with Bergonzi, the bassist has lifted bandstands with such stalwarts as Clark Terry, Red Rodney, Dave Liebman, Bob Berg, Mike Stern and Brad Mehldau.

  When asked about how this date expands on the previous Standards Band project, Dave noted that “we’ve played together a lot more this past year, which has solidified our approach.” Yes, it has. Indeed, it’s a band of mature players whose first concern is the music. As a result, even though each of the quartet’s members is a virtuoso player, one hears technique being subsumed and deployed in favor of following each tune’s overall emotional and dramatic trajectory. Thus, the performances possess through-lines that evolve with a logic and flow almost organic in nature. Every note, every phrase, every chorus — and each pause and silence — counts and makes sense. Dave, quite justly, is bullish on the band. “We feel we have many more volumes of this type of playing left to share. This is only the latest documentation of it.”

  Inquiring about the group’s spontaneous, in-the-pocket interactions, Dave talked about how the foursome’s collective vision has grown. “Renato was on the first gig I ever played with Tom Melito. We had instant rapport. It’s a feeling that’s grown deeper through the years. There’s an unexplainable intuition enabling us to anticipate each other’s moves. There’s also a kind of relaxed flow. It’s a camaraderie that I don’t think one hears with most groups. It’s a situation where everyone’s first goal was to serve the music rather than individual egos. Along with that, basically, we just had fun.”

  Speaking of selflessness, Dave, as in his previous date for Double-Time, is a generous leader who while soloing beautifully, obviously regards his primary role in terms of forwarding the momentum, maintaining the group’s focus, and inspiring Jerry’s and Renato’s solo flights. “Actually, I don’t feel any different as a leader than when I’m a sideman. Here, it’s just four good friends getting together and documenting all the years of experience we’ve had playing this music in various settings.” In typically understated fashion, Dave says that “we were just trying to produce honest music and have fun doing it.” Amen!

  “There’s a great deal of respect for the tunes,” Santoro adds. “While Tom and I are looking to establish rhythmic flows for everyone to bounce off of, Renato provides the harmonic guidelines. As for reharmonizations, some tunes like ‘What is This Thing Called Love’ are pretty radical, while others like ‘Surrey with the Fringe on Top’ keep pretty close to the original changes. The basic challenge, of course, is to create harmonic and rhythmic platforms to improvise over.”

    Significantly, “every tune was a first or second take, which in part is a tribute to Peter Kontrimas’s studio. It was like playing in someone’s living room. It felt like home. We had total trust in Peter’s ears and engineering which made him like a fifth member of the band.”

    In commenting on the song list, Dave notes that the opener, “This Love of Mine,” is one of the few tunes for which Frank Sinatra wrote lyrics. “I remember hearing it on the Elvin Jones album, Dear John C. It’s always been one of my favorite tunes.” With Jerry’s arioso tenoring, it’s a poignant walking ballad whose haunting echoes keep resonating long after the track has faded.

    “What Is This Thing Called Love” exemplifies the foursome’s harmonic daring. In fact, Jerry’s reharmonization gives the timeless plaint a postmodern twist. Also, it’s a great medium stroll where everything falls naturally, and unrushed, thus resisting the temptation to overheat.

    Dave confesses that “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” has always been a personal favorite. Here, with its breakneck tempo, Jerry romps with a Rollins-esque kind of rhythmic and melodic displacement which unfolds against a vivid rhythmic backdrop woven tightly by the simpatico interplay of Dave, Renato and Tom.

    One of the most intriguing tracks is the bassist-leader’s reharmonized “Tenderly,” which gives the venerable ballad a new purchase on life. “I was trying to create a Wayne Shorter-ish mood, which I knew Jerry would sound great on.” Again, Dave is right. There’s also a wonderful example of the leader’s own heartfelt and thoughtful soloing as well a sample of Renato’s sparkling pianistics.

    “The Song of You” is a relatively straightahead version of the Jerome Kern standard taken at a jet propelled tempo that soars into a dazzling coda that as it fades, leaves Jerry’s arabesques glowing iridescently against the setting harmonic sun.

    Dave attributes his attraction to “All or Nothing at All” to the tune’s unusual structure. “I’ve always loved the version on the Johnny Hartman Meets John Coltrane album.” Paced slightly slower than the memorable rendition on Coltrane’s Ballads, here, Jerry builds a spiraling solo with a smoldering sound at once dark and yet almost Getzian when it reaches the top of his tessitura.

    The Rodgers and Hammerstein hit from Oklahoma, “Surrey with the Fringe On Top,” is a engagingly loping show tune that entered the jazz repertory thanks to galvanizing readings by Sonny Rollins and Miles Davis. Here, “Jerry came up with a little vamp that reminded us of a tune called ‘The Pilgrim’ by Lee Morgan, which gave us a fresh means of getting into it.”

    The curtain-closer is “This Is New,” which though seldomly heard, “was fun playing on.” While featuring robust solos by Jerry, Dave and Renato, it’s also another showcase for the plush, interactive, Rolls Royce rhythms of Dave, Renato and Tom.

    In his goals for the date, Dave stressed having wanted “to keep a loose feel in order to capture an in-the-moment kind of playing.” This the group has accomplished. Indeed, if the essence of jazz is spontaneous, sophisticated, sound-of-surprise improvisation, Dave Santoro’s Standards Band Volume 2 is jazz at its best.

    In concluding, I’d like to paraphrase the last paragraph of the notes I had the privilege of penning in May 1999 for Dave Santoro: Standards Band. The immensely satisfying music of Dave Santoro’s Standards Band crackles with compelling immediacy. Finding new challenges within a bracing program of reharmonized classics, the maturity of the all-star Santoro-Bergonzi-Melito-Chicco lineup balances the intuitive with the deeply schooled. It’s contemporary, cutting-edge neo-mainstream jazz at the summit.

—Dr. Chuck Berg The Univ. of Kansas;
     Jazz Times; Jazz Educators Journal;