Keyboardist-composer Francesco Crosara has crafted a memorable debut for Southport. While the title, Colors, underscores the diversity of his palette, the title track-confined to tenor sax and piano-isolates the CD's only weakness: not all gradations blend. Special guest Von Freeman brings a big fat tone and rough edge to a session dominated by the kind of sensitive swing seldom heard since Bill Evans.
As impressive as Freeman's blues-drenched wailing can be, a Hammond organ better showcases it than the poetic comping of Crosaro's acoustic piano. Their best partnership is the amalgam of "I Loves You Porgy" and "Bess You Is My Woman."
Not surprisingly, Crosara's high points can be heard when he goes unfettered. His rubato meanderings on "Spring Can Hang You Up the Most," "Petite Peach," "Say Goodbye" and the intro to "Dolphin Dance" are precious insights into his fertile imagination and harmonic daring. Both are revealed on the jet-propelled "Plutonium"-which also shows Freeman at his most articulate.
"Suite Venus"-with Crosara on acoustic and Rhodes-is relentlessly propulsive and boasts a hypnotically swinging montuna (Latin vamp) over Noel Okimoto's ubiquitous drumming plus great chops by soprano saxophonist David Choy.
There's a savory cameo by singer Claudia Perez on "Passion," sung in Portuguese. Sounds like Astrud Gilberto on steroids.