Lou Marini’s discography as a leader is relatively puny—Starmaker is only his fourth proper solo release in a career that stretches back some four-plus decades, and it was recorded in 1990, unreleased until now and actually predates his other albums. Not that the saxophonist has kicked back through the years; he’s kept busy serving as a sideman for a long list of headliners running the gamut from Blood, Sweat & Tears to Frank Zappa, Levon Helm, James Taylor, the Saturday Night Live Band and, most famously, the Blues Brothers.
At the time he made Starmaker, Marini could easily have capitalized on his rock and pop associations. But he had a specific concept in mind—the album is inspired by Olaf Stapledon’s sci-fi novel of the same title—so Marini handpicked a cast of ace player’s players, among them pianist Gil Goldstein, bassist Bob Cranshaw, drummers Danny Gottlieb and Chris Parker and a bevy of guitarists, keyboardists and horn men, to flesh out his concept.
The music is often appropriately cinematic and ambitious. The opening title track is a slow builder, tentative synth and percussion noodling giving way to the first of many brash Marini solos. When the saxophonist retreats midway to give the floor to Goldstein and keyboardist Robbie Kondor, the piece becomes widescreen, announcing that nothing here will remain static for long. “Civilization Blues” runs on solid funk and Marini’s more-soulful-than-expected, Mose Allison-like lead vocal. And on the epic “In My Dreams,” guitarist Jeff Mironov, Cranshaw, Gottlieb and Marini lock into a sturdy groove that disintegrates deliberately as it fades, leaving shards in its wake. What all of this has to do with its 1937 source material is never quite spelled out, but the tribute stands on its own admirably enough.