Anyone looking for a cool throwback album need search no further than this new import, from a drummer returning to the mainstream nearly 40 years after forming his first fusion band. Staying discreetly in the background nearly throughout, Romano interweaves the sounds of alto sax and clarinet in a fashion that recalls the pianoless post-Birth of the Cool quartets of the ’50s matching Gerry Mulligan with the likes of Chet Baker, Bob Brookmeyer and Paul Desmond. Sprinkled among the 10 original Romano charts are two lovable evergreens, Fats Waller’s “Black and Blue” and the getaway bonbon, Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Track lengths never reach 4:40, another retro element that evokes the pre-LP era. Sealing the deal is Geraldine Laurent’s outstanding work on alto, marrying the sweetness of Desmond’s tone to the indomitable exploratory verve of Lee Konitz. The joy of hearing her solo on the opening track, “Cité Soleil,” is enough to obliterate the somber aspect of its inspiration, the hopeless squalor of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Squealing in on clarinet, Mauro Negri injects the requisite anguish in his own pithy solo, juicing up the proceedings with the electronic amp affixed to his licorice.
Even when he unplugs for the Brooks-Waller-Razaf line, there’s an edge to Negri, whose style is a fresh synthesis of Pee Wee Russell, Anthony Braxton, Eric Dolphy and perhaps Jimmy Giuffre. So the horns aren’t boxed into a cool, detached rut at all. Romano’s eclecticism flies us to Birdland in “Prego!” with Laurent at the ready for a Parker-like romp, “Libero!!” is a finely disciplined tribute to free-jazz prophet Ornette Coleman, and “Blues for Roy” is a sinuous groovy strut through New Orleans. That latter track is the best place to hear bassist Henri Texier shine.
It would be misleading to say that Romano is totally preoccupied with harmony in his compositions. Check out his “Dany K” and “Handle With Care” for melodies that should earn Romero future royalties. Complaints? Just one. “Township,” offering us a glimpse of Laurent’s tough side, is too short!