When pianist Antonio Ciacca made the decision to study at the Bologna Conservatory in Italy, he had no idea how fateful this choice was. Tenor sax giant Steve Grossman had settled there in the 1970s, and became Ciacca's mentor. The honor of being mentored by the man who replaced Wayne Shorter in Miles Davis's band during the recording of A Tribute To Jack Johnson was not lost on Ciacca.
The strongest piece of advice Grossman gave him, though, was to go to New York, to fully immerse himself in jazz culture. Ciacca did just that, back in 1993, and the experience had a profound impact on him. Lagos Blues is his sixth release, and falls hot on the heels of his US label debut Rush Life (2008).
Lagos Blues is similar to Rush Life in that it features a mix of standards and originals, all arranged by Ciacca. The big difference between the two is the fact that Steve Grossman accepted an invitation to come to Lagos and join the group for recording. The regular quartet of saxophonist Stacy Dillard, bassist Kengo Nakamura, drummer Ulysses Owens, and Ciacca's own piano became a quintet for Lagos Blues with Grossman bringing along his tenor sax.
The genius of this collaboration was in the early decision for both Dillard and Grossman to play tenor, recalling such groundbreakers as Coleman Hawkins playing with Ben Webster, and Albert Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Lagos Blues was intended to be something special, and it is.
Ciacca's own "Lagos Blues" opens up the record, and features the full band playing with a rare fire. The very next cut is from Grossman; with "Take The D Train," he explores the type of blues John Coltrane was working on with Prestige on albums such as Lush Life and Soultrane.
Legendary bassist Paul Chambers was featured on both of those Coltrane albums, so his "Whims Of Chambers" makes a great choice for the group to cover. It also provides a wonderful showcase for the bass playing of Kengo Nakamura.
Probably the best example of Grossman and Dillard's tenor sax duels on the album is their version of "Body And Soul." Theirs is a powerhouse take; according to Ciacca's liner notes, this arrangement is influenced by both the Coltrane and Coleman Hawkins classic recordings.
The final track is a medley of "Reflections In D"/"In A Sentimental Mood," by Duke Ellington. Ciacca is a big fan, as is reflected in this great eight-minute rumination. Track for track, Lagos Blues makes an excellent introduction to the music of Antonio Ciacca, and the addition of Steve Grossman makes it even better. If you are looking for something with the traditional fire of old, tempered with some lovely, modern-day piano work, this is a disc to look into.