Toronto-area businessman Mario Romano studied music formally in the 1970s before being lured into the more lucrative world of cement and construction. Without ever losing his passion for jazz piano, Romano has managed to maintain a healthy dose of chops and a keen sense of arranging.
Valentina, his debut recording for the Canadian label Alma Records, features a familiar set of standards and a couple of original pieces in an acoustic quartet setting. Top-notch Toronto musicians Pat LaBarbera (tenor saxophone), Mark Kelso (drums) and Roberto Occhipinti (bass) aid Romano in an engaging set of straight-ahead jazz.
LaBarbera, perhaps best known for his work with the late drummer Elvin Jones, begins the proceedings with a breathy solo cadenza to introduce Romano's fresh re-working of "A Night in Tunisia." The saxophonist's focused intensity inspires the hard driving swing of Kelso and Occhipinti, setting up Romano for an in-the-pocket solo turn.
Romano proves an able soloist with a solid rhythmic foundation providing subtle bursts of technique. Standout piano work is heard on "On Green Dolphin Street," a ballad rendition of "Someday My Prince Will Come" and Occhipinti's swinging contribution "Via Romano." Guest vocalist Kristy Cardinali offers a youthful, soothing delivery of Romano's original lyrics on "Those Damn I Love Yous."
Valentina is a promising release for Romano, demonstrating how, even in jazz, it's never too late.