You may not be aware of Dave Tofani's extensive resume as a first-call musician, but you undoubtedly have heard him play. Like Phil Woods, who crafted the unforgettable solo on Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are," or Michael Brecker who played the solo on James Taylor's "Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," Tofani has contributed significantly to some commercially successful recordings like John Lennon's Double Fantasy
album or Frank Sinatra's L.A. Is My Lady,
not to mention recording on Barbra Streisand, Buddy Rich, George Benson, Simon & Garfunkel, Dave Matthews and Steely Dan albums as well. However, after more than three decades of working in New York where he made a living doing studio, Broadway, and commercial work, he decided to go back to his original inspiration: jazz. Fortunately, Tofani has documented that work on Nights at the Inn,
on which he strives to project the feel of his live quartet performances at the Deer Head Inn in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania.
Tofani's firm control of the tenor sax, as well as his improvisational prowess though harnessed for listener appeal, is immediately apparent when he starts the album with Duke Ellington's "Angelica." Its first eight bars adapted to a medium-tempo beguine feel, "Angelica" showcases Tofani's careful attention to tone, including a few whipped-off end-of-phrase assertions reminiscent of Stan Getz. Also apparent on the first track is the group's responsive interaction. Drummer Ronnie Zito colors the performance with its slightly Latin feel, bassist Evan Gregor rises and falls in parallel with Tofani in the seventh measure before establishing the bridge's walking lines, and pianist Jesse Green fills rests with gently chiming chords and supports Tofani's authoritative presentation with shifting understated harmonic movement.
Having worked with Zito for years, Tofani chose to feature his friend on drums for the first of his compositions on Nights at the Inn,
Brushes on the Snare. Indeed, there is
much brushing of snares in the main theme of the tune, a darting, jabbing melody of anticipation of the beat, setting up a platform for Zito's rhythmic playfulness. But in truly effective songwriting fashion, the spare melody rises to a fulfilling release of the tension through Tofani's long tones in straight four, Green laying down broad chords like a cushion. Another of Tofani's original pieces, "You Caught Me," sounds
familiar, though it's not, because of the casual ease with which the melody flows. Naturally, the composition sets up the occasion for satisfying solos, including one from guitarist Jack Wilkins, after an eight-bar connective restatement of motif, a hook that remains memorable after it leads into the abrupt, pleasing ending. Tofani's "Trip to Madrid" starts with a musical reminiscence of his times there through Green's descending harmonic framework. Like Chick Corea's integration of jazz with flamenco, though Tofani remains irrepressible, for the solemnity of the introduction evolves quickly into a celebratory section, extroverted and invigorating with surging percussiveness behind him.
However, Tofani's return to performing jazz as much as possible appears to gravitate back to the standards, for all of the remaining selections come from the great American songbook, with the possible exception of Thad Jones's ever-popular and affecting "A Child Is Born," which Tofani explores with tonal gorgeousness and dynamic sophistication, the second and fourth measures swelling with the emotion of the phrases. By the same token that "In a Sentimental Mood" is exquisitely expressed, the second chorus an octave higher than the first and Green creating a soft filigree of notes behind him, "The Things You Are" is free, as Gregor's quarter-note lead-in establishes the tempo for the tenor sax-and-bass improvisation. Tofani avoids overt reference to melody for the first few choruses, the chord structure being so familiar that it needn't be stated, and sounding in that respect like the Paul Desmond-Gerry Mulligan version of Two of a Mind.
Tofani chooses to end Nights at the Inn
with the beautiful "Violets for Your Furs," probably just as he could close at set at the Deer Head Inn, putting his audience at ease and leaving it with a desire to hear more in the future.
It appears that Nights at the Inn
is receiving substantial airplay throughout the United States as radio programmers recognize its quality and accessibility for listeners. As a result, Tofani may indeed be providing more recordings for listeners to hear in the future.