Steve Markoff & Patricia Lazzara – Romances In Blue Featuring Allison Brewster Franzetti – Album Review
Flautists in the mix today! I never really get to write that word down in-print enough for my liking.
Man…these three sure keep busy eh? Inspiring really. It hasn’t even been a full two years since I reviewed Steve Markoff, Patricia Lazzara, and Allison Brewster Franzetti’s record Timeless, and I’ve still managed to squeeze in a couple of their other tunes in between then & now as well. Awesome to see as much as it is to hear…these three seem to feed of the creativity & inspiration they provide each other, in a cycle that certainly seems determined to continue on at full speed. Considering how much you’d have to practice, play, and remember in making music like this – make no mistake at all folks, these three are remarkably dedicated professionals and highly capable players with an insatiable desire to create…and you know we love that here. They’ve already got a brand-new record, Romances In Blue, and word on the street is that in behind the scenes they’re already workin’ on another one for 2022.
I’ll be as fully upfront with y’all as I always am – I like this album better than anything else I’ve heard from this trio of talents to-date. That’s not to take anything away from what I’ve heard from them all in the past – they’ve always brought a ton of heart, passion, and skill to what they create together. But in the case of the album Timeless, or even the last single I reviewed in their cover of Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” – it’s tough to not dwell on comparisons; it’s just a natural part of who we are & how we listen. Having a lineup of songs on Romances In Blue that is comprised of lesser-known scores from magnificent films and covers that haven’t been so vastly explored already, has simply brought out the best in them from what I can hear with my ears. Whether that’s the pressure being off of going after such well-recognized material, or just being that much more closely connected to the music they’re making on this particular record…whatever it is, I’d be taking a good look at it, because they’ve captured plenty of magic on Romances In Blue, & I genuinely felt like this was their best I’ve heard to-date, 100%.
With Allison setting the stage via the sparkling notes of her piano to start “If I Could Reach Your Heart” before being joined by Steve & Patricia to follow, and their endearing sweetness instantly starts to connect, strongest especially when playing collected in tandem, together. Listen to notes like you’ll hear around the 2:15-ish mark will ya? Amazing. Technique & capability have never been an issue for this trio of talents, and you’ll certainly notice that remains a huge asset to their music as they soar through the dreamy vibes of their opening track, delivering a true dose of undeniable sweetness outta your speakers and into your soul via the uplifting core melody guiding “If I Could Reach Your Heart” along. It’s a quaint & inviting start that doesn’t seem to feel like it needs to rush us in any sense, just pleasantly playing along like we happened to all walk into the room and discover Steve, Patricia, and Allison doing what they love without even seeing we’re all right here hanging out in the corner. It’s got good springs to it overall though…the kind of effervescent & refreshing spirit that immediate has us paying attention.
“Longing” starts out with a cleverly played call & answer approach between Steve’s flute & Allison’s piano as this instrumental story begins to unfold. An absolute gem of a song, the depth in “Longing” is more than abundant – it’s straight-up compelling, and surrounds you with a thick melody that hangs in the air gently like wisps of smoke, or the fading of a dream as you wake. I felt like this had the perfect balance of melancholy & beauty combined…and once again, you can truly feel that connection between the artists & the music to an extraordinary degree…essentially, what they’re playing is great, but it’s HOW they play it that gives it the real magic we hear. Incidentally, it’s also pretty much the main hallmarks of true professionals – but that is indeed also what they are. You can trust me on that if ya like, or you can head on over to their pages and read about their many credentials & the fantastic story of what brought them together to make music in the first place, which I highly recommend ya should do anyway, whether ya trust me or not. “Longing” would go on to remain one of my main favorites from Romances In Blue as I played this record throughout the week…it offers a totally different dimension of their sound than any other song seems to & the melody at its core is as enchanting as it is entertaining.
Whoa boy. Here’s a title & a half. “Medley From ‘Cinema Paradiso’: Cinema Paradiso / First Love / Love Theme.” Not only is it a mouthful to even say for us, just keep in mind that every single one of these highly skilled tunes they’re so charmingly flutin’ up for us are ALSO a mouthful for THEM, to say the very least. For everything they do to come out as continually solid & bold in their tones & musicianship is a real testament to their professionalism and just how talented they truly are. I’m not gonna lie to ya, it almost becomes something we completely take for granted nowadays with music being made by so many different things from instruments to computers & whatnot – lest we forget, everything you hear being made by Steve & Patricia comes directly from inside of them, surrounded by the gifted touch of the hands of Allison on the piano. You’ll get what I mean when you hear it…most of us couldn’t even hold our own breath as long as they can hold a note for with perfect tone & pitch…it’s quite stunning to hear how they use their space in a song so well and keep the entertainment audibly flowing at all times. They do such a spectacular job of finding music that really speaks to them, and play it in such a way that it speaks to us just as strongly…”Medley From ‘Cinema Paradiso’: Cinema Paradiso / First Love / Love Theme” is a perfect example of how they are able to take the music they love & have us see it through their eyes, hear it through their instruments, and connect to the heart of the way it makes them feel.
“Kiss” pairs Patricia solo with Allison for a short & sweet experience that’s one of the rare tunes to find under three-minutes or even four on Romances In Blue. Love the drama these two find as they head towards that second minute and the lively sound it brings out of these two together, and the serenity found surrounding the most intense moments of this song is equally superb. Make no mistake though, you feel this song right from the get-go as Allison introduces the weight of the melody through her piano – from there on in, it simply continues to blossom into its own beauty evermore. “Kiss” has got a great mix of sweet but not too-sweet sound goin’ on…even triumphant at times, perhaps representative of that “Kiss” being achieved at long last, or the feeling of victory after the taste of love is experienced.
As you’d expect in a song with a title called “The Day I Lost My Love,” you’re probably not in-store for the happiest tune you’re gonna hear this year, you dig? That being said, I’m all for a deep dive into the realm of melancholy any time, so for myself personally, this was one of the real highlights on their new record for me. It’s gorgeous stuff when it comes right down to it, even when you can hear they’ve sunken into a much more fragile set of emotions fueling this particular song, they never seem to lose that inspired spark they share between them as they play. As they head into spots like around the 2:40 mark, you’ll hear how they also manage to always incorporate a fragment of light in the dark when its needed too, lifting up this song’s spirits in the second half as they place. Excellent balance in this whole structure in its array of emotions, and you feel the extra weight of “The Day I Lost My Love,” just as intended. Just because it’s not the happiest song of 2021 doesn’t mean it’s any less of a beautiful tune.
You know…the last thing I’d ever want to do is discourage these three players from playing together, but I will certainly concede that their songs with just two of’em in action like “Longing,” “Kiss,” and “Aria” nearing the midway point of Romances In Blue, is definitely getting some of the best out of them too. Allison is sprinkling those keys of her with pure golden magic in melody and a master’s touch – she does every time mind you, but you get the opportunity to hear it with a bit more balance in the music overall when it’s a 1:1 piano-to-flute ratio goin’ on. On “Aria,” she’s laid out some of her spellbinding best for us, and you’ll get what I mean when you listen – think of a song like this as more of a duet that takes place directly between two instruments; you’ll find that they both deserve equal billing on this ticket. I love that you can also hear how these tracks where you’ll find Steve on like “Aria” and “Longing” sound so much different than the atmospheres & songs where Patricia takes the lead like “Kiss” or “Eternity Of A Love” towards the end of the album…it really helps you appreciate just how much each player brings to the overall sound, and helps people way on the outside of the classical realm like myself understand even more what contributes to the exceptional balance they have in the music they’re making. “Aria” is stocked full of curious & beautiful sound…low-key & almost unassuming, it ends up being quite the charming & charismatic cut, especially when Allison heightens the tension around the 2:50 mark of the song. As clever & compelling as ever…Steve puts in a magnificent highlight here early on in this lineup.
I think however, my favorite on this whole record might actually be the longest cut of them all – and that’s usually a pretty rare thing when it comes to music. Not that I’m opposed to long tracks…I’m not at all actually…it’s just that they can rarely sustain the magic required to make them the ultimate selection or favorite cut of the bunch…and between the three of them, they might have just pulled that off here with “Three Romances In Blue.” I’ll admit, it’s hard to ever say for sure – they don’t let their standards drop at any point throughout Romances In Blue, so it really becomes about what tends to speak to your soul the most as you listen & absorb it all on a personal level. The amount of bold, colorful expression is absolutely fantastic all throughout this song, played with vibrant detail & exceptional tones that do truly tell your ears a story if you’re listening closely. Allison puts some remarkably subtle chops on display in behind them at the core of the melody, often playing an entire series of notes just as easily as a guitar player could strum a chord, giving her piano an extra angelic touch this time around throughout the first half, before taking the spotlight for a brief moment mid-song as they start into the second. The whole track is wonderfully fluid and ever-changing as they play it, giving us a colorful collage of air-driven melody that incorporates the full palette of our emotions, and takes us on a significant journey into the world of flute-music that’s substantial & equally impressive. Basically, we get to spend some serious time with these three as they take on this ambitious song, and as a result, “Three Romances In Blue” supplies one of the most highly diverse adventures in sound that you’ll discover on their new record, concluding strong on notes that tell you exactly when it’s really over.
“Wish You Were Here” takes us back into another stellar combination of Patricia and Allison together, and arguably into more melancholy & thought-provoking terrain at times, like we experienced on “The Day I Lost My Love” earlier on. Not quite to that degree of melancholy, but close; the spirited sound of Patricia’s flute will often pull this track out of the dark and into a more welcoming atmosphere. Allison remains as fantastic as ever in supplying the core melody & mood for Lazzara to respond to & bounce her own inspired moments off of like an audible springboard – and once more, it’s the stunning array of contrast between the light & the dark that seems to generate continuously compelling music for us to enjoy on several levels as we listen. All-in-all, it’s a stellar mix of the bold & the beautiful and their gift for finding music that delves deep into contrast that guides them to another solid victory here – it’s wonderfully well-played and another highlight on the record that reveals the remarkable depth in their selection of songs & sounds that roam throughout the expressive atmospheres on Romances In Blue. Love the flute from Patricia as this song plays, and love the backbone of this melody supplied by Allison.
Moving gently into the second-half of the record – “Quietly Comes The Night” begins side-B if we’re splitting this down the middle symmetrically. You see what I’m saying folks? Not only do they love to play and have a massive desire to make their music, but they stack these albums to maximum capacity when they put one out too. I’m long on record here at our pages in saying that anything more than twelve songs is tremendously ambitious and likely a lofty goal to assume there aren’t any spots where someone out there will feel the drag & pull at times…but for the most part here, I felt like if you loved what they were doing from the very beginning on Romances In Blue, it’s more than easy to stick with it all until the very end, and we never really find that expected hiccup of stagnation come along to bite them as we do in most sets of this enormous length. Do I think there are opportunities to make something like this a tighter record by being more critical and cutting out four tunes somewhere to make it so? Yep! Of course I do. I stand by what I’ve previously said for years now just as much as ever, regardless of how much I might like what I’m hearing…in a lineup of sixteen, the odds are stacked up hard against ya to never let the energy or quality drop; I think they’ve done a great job of keeping an eye on all that & the attention to detail here on songs like “Quietly Comes The Night” as any other – but there’s always room to tighten an experience up just that much more in a shorter set-list and give the audience more room to decide whether or not they’re coming back by choice as opposed to sitting captive. Mind you, again, if I was sitting held captive having to listen to this I’d be as happy as a clam.
“Reminiscences” is definitely one of my favorites on this record that features all three in on the action – this is about as apt as a title can be in terms of echoing the sentiment of the instrumental sound you’ll hear – and it’s quite remarkable to experience something like this that conjures up the meaning to your mind as strongly as it does via such delicate means. It also happens to be the shortest of the entire set, but they clearly maximized the potential in every second in one of the best examples of how they all combine their talents to create moving material you can feel right at the center of your heartstrings. Listen to that note around the 1:25-1:38-ish mark will ya? That’s a thing of beauty in itself right there – and it’s ultimately kind of daring really…I’d be willing to bet we’d all react to that spot a little differently, but that’s a pretty high-up note & frequency you’ll find there. For me, that’s exquisite & memorable – and for someone say, like my wife, she’d be bound to be terrified & run for the hills because that kinda stuff ain’t her jam, even if I know for a fact she’d probably absolutely love every single second surrounding that moment…that’s what a difference that much of a significant highlight or noticeable piece in the music like this can make. All-in-all though, it’s about as polarizing of a moment as you’re ever likely to find by these three…for the most part they’re always in a pleasant & welcoming gear that’s universal to anyone out there with love for classical, orchestral, instrumental music & real compositions.
Then “Medley From ‘The Mission’: Gabriel’s Oboe / Falls / Climb” comes in to suite us off our feet – see what I did there? Anyone who has ever heard that incredible soundtrack or seen the movie for themselves knows just how exceptionally powerful that material was, and hearing these three put a medley of it into this record was a choice well-suited to their strengths for sure. It’s got that mix of uplifting & spiritual sound, the serenity & peaceful vibes they’re so capable of creating, and a stellar selection of emotion that explores the gamut of what makes melody in its purest form, connect to us. They’ve got a great way of taking us on a journey with them when they play, and that ability they have is exemplified through the endearing performance they put into “Medley From ‘The Mission’: Gabiel’s Oboe / Falls / Climb” – there’s a real empowered spirit that fuels this song from start to finish that they’ve captured perfectly here…I salute them for keeping this soundtrack fully in the people’s minds.
Don’t get me wrong, they do sweetness very well when it comes to making music, and that’s always a winning aspect of their style & sound when we hear it pop up – but some of these songs that explore the darker sides of melody, like you’ll find on “Milonga Del Adios” are all-out mesmerizing at points. Really evocative stuff on this particular track, and to me, once more this kind of deeper vibe seemed to bring out their artistic best as they tapped into the heavy emotions that soar throughout this song. Allison can make the most of an opening to any tune if she’s got the space, and “Milonga Del Adios” is complete proof of that; she’s got such an impressively professional talent that from song to song, she’s able to entirely set up the uniqueness between each atmosphere we hear, and provide that new setting for Patricia & Steve to bring their own complements to the composition as it plays on & expands. This would be another track right up there with my favorites that I’ve heard from them in combination for sure – they’ve got more than a few candidates to choose from in a wealth of well-played material here.
Much like “Reminiscences” beforehand, they’ve got another highly apt title with “Nostalgie” that instantly conjures up the memories in your mind of times long gone, but still held dear in the heart. I think it says a lot about the composition in the songs they choose, and certainly also about the way they play them as well…to be able to echo the spirit & meaning of a word inside the essence of sound in a song is by no means any small achievement, it’s a remarkable one to behold in every sense of the word. Beautiful depth to be explored here, and between the three of them, they put in a flawlessly professional performance that reveals how exceptionally focused they can truly be. Lots of character in the composition of this cut, and fantastic interaction between Steve and Patricia as they play – “Nostalgie” has a real cultural & classic vibe to it with an inspired edge…they get a lot of miles out of this song and take us for another journey in sound that transports us out of our world & firmly into theirs; it’s through that, that we reach our own introspective thoughts and feelings of nostalgia, because they’ve set up the surrounding music perfectly to induce our mind to start to roam – that make sense?
“Havana” was probably the only song in this lineup I could immediately recognize personally, aside from having grown up watching The Mission as one of my old man’s favorite films multiple times. As far as I know it’s a cover of a Kenny G tune, which gives them some extra freedom to roam out to the fringe of their flute-based sound to capture some of that magic that would have been originally played on the G-man’s saxophone…and that added spark seems to serve them well. For a moment I questioned what brought it to this particular lineup of Romances In Blue…but ultimately, there’s no argument to be made against it belonging here…it’s a different type of romance perhaps, but still romantic all the same. You get to hear some of their most vibrant, lively, and expressive chops on display through “Havana” however…and based on that alone, I’d imagine that this cut from their new album will have no problem at all standing out as a favorite for many. You see? I went full-circle from originally wondering whether or not it fully belonged to this set by comparison to the rest, to concluding that it’s quite likely one of the most accessible songs on the record on a universal level & should probably be looked at as a single.
The last song that was new for me personally in this set on Romances In Blue, was “Eternity Of A Love.” Bringing back that uplifting spark & sweetness to their music in full-bloom, this was a fantastic track that brings out their playful side just that much more, and has us all appreciating the sheer selection of different styles & sounds they’ve taken on so capably throughout this whole record. We’re all gonna have our favorite gears from Patricia, Steve, and Allison, I’m sure…just like we do with all the music that we listen to. Like I mentioned, for me it’s the deeper dives into the more melancholy-driven tunes that seemed to work for me the best, but “Eternity Of A Love” was a superb example of the opposite effect working out perfectly…this is a happier gear on the record supplied by Patricia and Allison on their own, but it was one that I readily seemed to seek out every time. They’ve put a lot of love into this track & you can hear it…it’s humbly charming all-around I’d say. ”Eternity Of A Love” genuinely sounds like a song you might hear at a wedding to help ring in the celebration…it’s a fantastically friendly & welcoming tune that’s a little dazzling, a little emotional, and a whole lot inviting…they’re unified & locked into this tune, with Patricia putting one last turn in the spotlight to show what she brings to their music and getting the most in return for her efforts & the remarkable technique you’ll hear on display.
“Liama” made for a spectacular finish to this record, and welcomed back a song I’ve long loved since hearing it back in early March of last year when I first reviewed it. All-in-all, it’s a smart choice to have placed as the finale here…not only is it a great song, but featured where it is in this lineup, it was a constant reminder of how good the ending would really be, thus practically ensuring they knew they had to deliver & make many other impressions on us throughout the journey through Romances In Blue, which they certainly did. No matter which way you slice it, “Liama” makes for an outstanding ending and still sounds like one of the strongest cuts not only on this record, but in their entire catalog overall. There’s such an impressive range of intense beauty & dramatic emotion on display all throughout “Liama” that continually connects with full strength, and makes for a stellar ending to a noteworthy set from this talented trio…they’ve done themselves proud with these performances – well done friends.
Find out more about the music of Steve Markoff and Patricia Lazzara at their official homepage at: https://www.lazzarkoff.com