État de Fait
When, in 2004, drummer/guitarist Aldo Romano, one of the finest players to emerge from the European jazz community in the 1960s, was awarded the prestigious JazzPar award in Copenhagen, he surprised the assembled crowd by performing “Estate”—as a vocalist. Actually, though, singing was nothing new to Romano. He’d first raised his voice in song some three-and-a-half decades earlier when he formed the jazz-rock fusion band Total Issue. Bolstered by the warm response to his “Estate,” Romano decided to attempt an entire vocal album.
The result, 2006’s Chante, found him mixing French and English pop tunes and standards, plus a re-visiting of “Estate,” delivered with a dusky voice closer in spirit to such contemporary performers as Charlotte Gainsbourg, Keren Ann and Carla Bruni (who joined Romano on one track) yet respectfully reminiscent of the classic recordings of Charles Aznavour and Serge Gainsbourg. (Fans of the Italian-born Romano’s instrumental work, particularly such stateside successes as Canzoni and Non Dimenticar that drew heavily from the Italian pop hit catalog, might be surprised that his primary language of choice is French. The explanation is simple. As a child, he moved with his family to Paris, which has since remained his permanent home.)
Romano’s vocal follow-up, though stylistically similar, is markedly different. On Chante, Romano left the guitar work to Nelson Veras. This time around, he accompanies himself on both drums and guitar. Also, gone are the covers—and the nods to the Great American Songbook—with the 10 tracks written or cowritten by Romano and (with the exception of the closing instrumental, “Dreams+Waters”) all performed in French. Tonally, almost the entire album echoes the velvety vocal caresses that defined Chante. There is, however, one exception. The muscular title track, a soulful exercise in aggressive, jazz-infused hip-hop, which pairs him with singer Ma. Chenka, seems distinctly out of place, harkening more to Romano’s Total Issue past than to the jazz roots he established with the likes of Don Cherry and Dexter Gordon. Yet, as contextually discordant as the song may be, it provides further evidence of Romano’s marvelous dexterity.