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Rossano Sportiello: Piano on My Mind (2005)

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Rossano Sportiello: Piano on My Mind How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Eastwood Lane was an American pastoral woodland that composer Bix Beiderbecke admired; his "Down Stream" opens this solo second CD by the young Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello as a peaceful atmospheric etude. "Blowin' Up" is the pianist's own, featuring a boppish theme with a running left hand. It slips into a string of ballads, "You Took Advantage of Me" to "The Best Thing for You," causing a sparkle without ruffling the mood. After the ballads comes a piece in medium tempo: "That's All" in a swing to bop style, with walking, ambling, and trotting basses, long left hand runs, and a manual gear-change for just a breath of classic stride. A miraculous touch keeps everything moving and coloured. Sportiello manages alternations of pace with exceptional fluency.

"Detroit Medley" is a sequence of three themes by Tommy Flanagan ("Dalarna"), Hank Jones with Coleman Hawkins ("Angel Face"), and Barry Harris ("Nascimento"), one of Rossano Sportiello's mentors. The demonstration of intimate affinities is followed by Willie the Lion Smith's "Echoes of Spring," which achieves amazing stillness. Even "Lady Be Good" is taken for a fair stretch at ballad tempo before the pace picks up. There's even some Monkish stride before a passage of straight medium-fast stride in a performance which also demonstrates puissant stride left hand.

"Bluesale" is the pianist's own twelve-bar theme—as if he reincarnates some undeservedly forgotten pianist around from the 1940s, a species always neglected on record—with a rare command of tone and an ability to phrase across or suspend the beat. The theme of Teddy Wilson's "Sunny Morning" sounds a tad boppish here. The composition is Wilson's encapsulation of his own style, whose rhythmic underpinnings were very different from the stride basis of the Sportiello style. The pianist maintains his own rhythmic distinctiveness here, which on the Wilson number makes for intriguing complexity.

Restrained master stride makes its appearance in "All God's Chillun Got Rhythm" in, well, amazing flashes. To make a graceless transition of a sort not on this CD, Eastwood Lane was, it seems, somewhere in the background when Beiderbecke composed "Flashes." He never himself record it, but he might have played it as strictly in tempo as he did "In a Mist." By the time of the 1935 premiere recording by Bix's friend Jess Stacy, jazz rhythm had loosened up, and Stacy's take is still well worth hearing.

This rendition has the singular Sportiello flexibility and flow, maintaining the same pulse which is audible through this relaxed set. Sportiello is among the least showy of pianists of such huge technical accomplishment. When a lot of notes come along, he phrases them with the dynamic command of an old master hornman or, among the pianists who are heroes to Rossano Sportiello, John Bunch.

Track Listing: Down Stream; You Took Advantage Of Me; Blowin' Up;Cheek To Cheek; Sweet Lorraine; The Best Thing For You; That's All; Tenderly; Detroit Medley; Echoes Of Spring; Oh, Lady, Be Good!; Bluesale; Tangerine; Sunny Morning; Body And Soul; All God's Chillun Got Rhythm; Flashes.

Personnel: Rossano Sportiello: piano.

Record Label: Jazz Connaisseur

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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