Kurama-Live in Japan
Francesco Crosara has been a world traveler in both his life and his music. He is a strikingly original pianist who displays his own inventive style while reviving standards and debuting new suites. On Kurama, he is heard at his best throughout an intriguing program, improvising with a trio and adding colorful synth parts to create three of his most memorable performances. Born in Italy and the son of the famous jazz singer Lillian Terry, Francesco started on the piano when he was four. A few years of study at a conservatory convinced him that he was more interested in improvising than in recreating classical works He performed locally in Italy until he was 21, when he moved to the United States to attend USC. After graduating, he moved to Hawaii where he worked with alto great Gabe Baltazar. During a period spent living in Chicago, Francesco played regularly with veteran tenor-saxophonist Von Freeman. Although he has since settled in Los Angeles, many of Francesco's performances have taken place overseas in Europe. Kurama documents his debut in Japan. The trio performances on Kurama were all recorded during a single live performance at an intimate jazz club in Osaka, Jazz On Top. Considering how tight the ensembles, arrangements and communication are, it is surprising to realize that, before their brief sound check, the musicians had never played together before. "The promoter found the two other musicians and proposed them to me," remembers Francesco, "Through the internet, I was able to listen to them play and sent them lead sheets of my music." The pianist is proud that the musicians represent three different ethnic groups and three different continents, with bassist Yasushi Gonjo being an Asian from Japan and drummer Larry Marshall an African-American from the U.S. "We came together with our very different life experiences and ended up sounding like we had been playing with each other forever. Yasushi, who is just 23, does not even speak English so we could only communicate exclusively through music, but it worked out very well." The first half of this program begins with a tender unaccompanied chorus by Francesco on "How Deep Is The Ocean" before the trio digs in and cooks the standard. The next three selections form a tribute to Miles Davis. It can be a challenge to find something fresh to say on songs that have been performed a countless number of times. In the case of "All Blues," which is normally taken at a medium-tempo, the trio interpreted it at a much faster pace than is usually heard, giving it fresh life. The piano and bass solos sound effortless and there is also a brief tradeoff with Marshall's drums. "My Funny Valentine" is essentially a tasteful statement of the melody although the closing vamp is a surprise. "Solar" is given an unusual treatment, with the melody and rhythm deconstructed and broken up before the trio creates a fiery and hard-swinging version. Herbie Hancock's always-hypnotic "Maiden Voyage" is a feature for bassist Yasushi Gonjo who plays the introduction and takes an impressive solo. Thelonious Monk's "Well You Needn't" has drummer Larry Marshall in the spotlight, taking two solos, driving the ensembles, and inspiring the other players. The second half of the program has Francesco taking three trio performances from the Osaka concert and reworking them a bit in the studios, enhancing their power without changing their essence. "Chant For Peace" was composed by the pianist shortly after September 11. Both an anti-war and a pro-peace number, "Chant For Peace" is quite bluesy and spiritual with Francesco adding the sound of a Hammond B3 organ and a synthesized choir to the trio. Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" is given a concise and funky treatment, using a double time feel with synthesizers that really grooves. The 14-minute three-movement "Kurama Suite" is the third extended work that Francesco has written thus far. "I was drawn to the legend of the Kurama mountain in Japan. I wanted the suite to have an Asian influence, a mystical feel and a modal construction." After the trio stretched out on the thoughtful piece in concert, Francesco rearranged the tune based on the improvisation, the exact opposite of how it is usually done. The results, which utilize an orchestra arrangement, are haunting and memorable. Due to the success of this concert, Francesco Crosara was quickly booked to return to Japan to play in five cities. He plans to add a fourth member to his group who specializes in Tibetan percussion. "I want to continue exploring different ethnic musical concepts, bringing those into jazz, and creating original music that inspires me." The performances on Kurama represent Francesco's most spirited and satisfying recording to date. Scott Yanow, Jazz Journalist and Author of Ten Books including The Jazz Singers, Trumpet Kings, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76.