It takes a certain amount of bravery and confidence for a well-established artist to change course as radically as Aldo Romano has. More than four decades into his career as a respected powerhouse jazz drummer, the French-Italian Romano discovered his voice -- literally -- in 2006 when he released Chante
, a stunning collection of alluring jazz-informed vocal chansons that redefined what this master musician was all about. Now, on February 5, 2008, Dreyfus Jazz will release etat de fait
, which takes Aldo Romano's newly nurtured romance with this hitherto unexplored facet of his talent to a whole other level.
Where Chante found Romano largely interpreting the songs of others, nine of the ten tracks on etat de fait are solely or partially the vision of Romano. Working with a supportive quintet of virtuoso players -- Rmi Vignolo on double bass and drums; Danilo Rea on piano and keyboards; Francesco Bearzatti on tenor saxophone; Mauro Negri on clarinet; and Umberto Trombetta on percussion -- Romano (who plays some guitar in addition to drums and vocals) makes ample use of his unimpeachable jazz chops to bring a polish and sophistication to these recordings of his exquisite and endearing compositions.
Undeniably, etat de fait brings Romano further from the world of progressive jazz in which he has spent the vast majority of his career. Yet he comes to this music naturally, his experience and innate creativity shining through--even on the tracks where the drums have little or no presence at all. The noirish L'hortensia" falls into that category, a beguiling piece of minimalism that finds only Vignolo's bass accompanying Romano's narrative. So too does Et L'on Rve," in which Romano's appropriately dreamy whisper, met by Rea's moody piano and Negri's sultry clarinet, instantly transports the listener to a late-night caf on the boulevards of Paris. At the other end of the spectrum, the title track is an exercise in deep urban funk that affords Romano an opportunity to remind us just how commanding his drumming is, and the swinging Link," one of two instrumentals on etat de fait, gives the entire band a chance to blow at full throttle. Ma Chenka, a female vocalist, adds another texture to the recording by guesting on two tracks.
Born in Bullono, Italy in 1941, Aldo Romano moved to France at an early age and began playing the drums at the age of twenty. Although essentially self-taught, he benefited from the advice of Michel Babault and Jacques Thollot. Inspired and influenced by the likes of Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, Romano performed locally with French musicians as well as Bud Powell, Chet Baker, Ted Curson, and Phil Woods; alto saxophonist Jackie McLean took notice of him and invited the young drummer to play with him during his stay in Paris. In 1965 he joined Don Cherry and Gato Barbieri to play free jazz. During this time, he also played with great legendary jazzmen like Johnny Griffin and Dexter Gordon. In the Seventies he played with Charlie Mariano, Chet Baker, Steve Kuhn and Carla Bley, John Abercrombie, and Steve Swallow, among others.
In 1969, Romano formed the group Total Issue with Henri Texier, flutist Chris Hayward and guitarist Georges Locatelli, where he explored his interest in fusion music and unveiled a new facet of his talent -- singing.
But the versatile and original drummer would continue to focus on percussion for the next 35 years, revealing himself to be an imaginative musician and composer, working with jazz heavyweights like Keith Jarrett, Philip Catherine and discovering and launching the career of the late, great Michel Petrucciani. With numerous critically acclaimed albums under his belt (some with his quartet, Palatino), Romano garnered praise the world over, and in 2004 he received the prestigious JazzPar award (considered to be the Nobel Prize of jazz) in Copenhagen. It was at the concert for the award that Romano displayed his vocal skills with his rendition of Estate" delighting the audience. Following this performance, Romano decided to record a vocal album and the project, the forthcoming Chante, was realized in 2005, three and a half decades after Romano first sang with Total Issue.
With a lifetime of improvisational music behind him, one might wonder how Aldo Romano could successfully shift his attention to the stricter confines imposed by pop music. Yet on etat de fait he blurs that line, bringing an openness to his songwriting and the ensemble performance that manages to both embrace the freedom of jazz and pay respect to the conventions of chanson. It's a remarkable confluence of innovation, invention and tradition that transcends genre and tears down preconceived notions as it revels in pure joy.