Nicki Parrott & Rossano Sportiello People Will Say We're In Love Arbors Records
With People Will Say We're In Love, bassist Nicki Parrott and pianist Rossano Sportiello have stepped to the forefront and formed a musical partnership that keeps the melody squarely in focus while creating an atmosphere of intimate instrumental interplay. Both musicians are well known for their individual talents from previous dates. Sportiello's solo piano release, Heart And Soul (Arbors, 2006), effectively recast standards through an inventive use of improvisation, swing and stride. Parrott has lent her powerfully graceful backbeat to numerous sessions, including pianist Johnny Varro's All That Jazz (Arbors, 2001), pianist Skitch Henderson's Swinging With Strings (Arbors, 2001), pianist Derek Smith's High Energy (Arbors, 2001) and violinist John Frigo's DNA Exposed (Arbors, 2001).
Together, Parrott and Sportiello here alternately thrill and entice on a refreshing program of inventively restyled standards set side by side with lesser known but melodically strong tunes. Think of the chemistry on those early Oscar Petersen/Ray Brown piano/bass duo meetings, with a tender twist, and you will have a sense of this session.
Parrott hails from Australia; Newcastle, New South Wales to be precise. It's a city that sits at the mouth of the Hunter river by the Pacific ocean, and serves as the export hub for 30 working coal mines. As much as Newcastle is beholden to its natural resources it also cherishes its inclusive musical and artistic environment with festivals and youth music education programs that belie its size. With a colorful past that includes the most notorious penal colony in Australian history and a rich Awabakal and Worimi aboriginal culture, it is no surprise that Parrott and her sister, saxophonist Lisa Parrott, gravitated to music early on. Beginning with piano at age four and adding flute quickly thereafter, Nicki made the switch to bass at the behest of Lisa, who needed a bassist for her band.
Studies at the New South Wales Conservatorium of Music and lessons with visiting bassists including Ray Brown opened up the world of jazz, and a subsequent grant from the Arts Council of Australia provided the opportunity to study with bassist Rufus Reid. Since arriving in New York City in 1994, Parrott's combination of emotive improvisational performances and singular stage presence has captivated an exceedingly broad spectrum of jazz audiences.
With an alluring glamour that would not be out of place on a 1950s jazz album cover, delightfully enthralling vocals and an uncanny feel and touch that excites with a swinging groove as easily as it beguiles with a soft caress, Parrott is indeed the whole package. In addition to her impressive Arbors resume, she has rhythmically anchored the hard driving swing of Sherrie Maricle's DIVA Jazz Orchestra, the world beat of David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness, the new music of Kitchen House Blend and the warm melodic trumpet stylings of Warren Vaché, bringing a commonality to these projects: the unmatched sensitivity of her instrument's voice.
In addition, The Awabakal Suite (Monkey Pants Records, 2001), produced by Rufus Reid and co-led by the Parrott sisters, eloquently showcased Nicki's musical and personal roots. A torrid touring schedule and weekly appearances at New York City's Midtown jazz venue, The Iridium, as the resident bassist in legendary guitarist Les Paul's trio, enables Parrott to translate that "live excitement to all her recording projects. Here, that is much in evidence, as these tunes reveal her uncommonly full-bodied tone, a by-product of her distinctive mix of technique and coloration.
Sportiello likewise brings an international perspective to this meeting. Hailing from Vigevano, Italy, he is a member of the wonderful new crop of pianists developing on the Italian jazz landscape. A small town in the north of the country, Vigevano is home to a multitude of artistic treasures that include one of the most striking castles in all of Europe, the Castello Sforzesco, as well as Italy's most beautiful piazza, the Piazza Ducale. With its Academy for the Study of 19th Century Music and classically inspiring architecture, Vigevano provided inspiration for Sportiello to train at Milan's famous Conservatorio Giuseppe Verdi. While he does have a precise, classically grounded approach, Sportiello is far from a sterile pianist. Along with Chopin, he was also weaned on the repertoire of Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton and Ralph Sutton and in the process has become an accomplished stride pianist.
Sportiello has spent a significant amount of time with New York City's pianist/educator cum laude, Barry Harris, and that gentleman's take on bop, Bud Powell and Monk is second to none. Add it all together, and you come up with a pianist whose sonic palette is the perfect foil for Parrott's sensibilities as he plaits threads of bop and stride throughout these melodies. Both musicians come out swinging with a fresh version of "Cup Bearers that explores all the delicious nooks and crannies of the Tom McIntosh chestnut. The crisp, freely flowing bounce of the melody acts as an apt and exciting intro to a session that examines love and its many variations from a variety of perspectives. The preliminary explorations continue with "Blues For Basie , a Sportiello tune that provides an improvisatory paean to the Count and his big gun, bassist Walter Page. Sportiello reprises Basie's economical style while Parrott swings hard pushing the pianist to flat out rag these blues.
"You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To is pure Parrott as she gives a hint of her discriminating sense of phrasing on the limpid opening line before vocally setting a wistful mood. The duo then swings the middle, kicking things up several notches toward a conclusion that has expectation supplanting melancholy on this Cole Porter standard. Alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges was unmatched when it came to tonally depicting the inherent emotion in a pensive ballad. That magic is recaptured on his "You Blew Out The Flame In My Heart, as Parrott's big sound envelops the room while Sportiello adds some Waller signifiers to a heartfelt portrayal. Set against a bluesy piano line that naturally glides through the familiar changes, sensually lyrical vocal phrasing contrasts with the faux innocence of Porter's clever "Let's Do It . Taken at a sensuously slow pace for a steamy soliloquy to love's universality, Parrott's uniquely personal give-and-take on vocals and bass highlights this contemporary rendition.
Next, the subtle complexities of bassist Sam Jones' "One For Amos are expertly navigated in tandem. Its melody is the ideal occasion for Sportiello to display some bluesy bop improvisation before Chopin is introduced to Ralph Sutton via the poet of the piano's "Revolutionary Etude: Op. 10 Nr. 12. The familiar passionate lines are classically recreated before the intense cascade of sound is effortlessly transmuted into a rag filled experience that somehow finds its way back to 19th century Paris. Romance is back center stage with Henry Mancini's classic "Moon River, a vehicle for elegant improvisation by both piano and bass as Parrott delivers a dreamy vocal interpretation of this tribute to love's journey before another of the moon's many mood inducing qualities is revealed in her blithe send up of the impish sexuality inherent in "What A Little Moonlight Can Do .
Sportiello lightly comps behind Parrott as a delicate arco segment releases the inner combination of pathos and hopefulness that is at the heart of Gabriel Luna de la Fuente's oft interpreted "Time Was . Parrott then likewise vocally exposes the bittersweet emotion of Berlin's "They Say It's Wonderful before Sportiello deftly weaves together his own "Why Did You Tell Me: I Love you? with Jimmy McHugh's "I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me . The stylish melody of the former is intertwined with the rag roots of the latter for an intriguing arrangement. Master and mentor Barry Harris recently penned the boppish "Moon Shadow and it is here dovetailed to perfection with pumping bass and spirited cross stylistic runs for a highly entertaining take on a melodic gem. Gershwin's "The Man I Love is a forum for Parrott to produce a gorgeously reflective solo to introduce the tune and to then pine about a lover yet unmet. Things draw to a fittingly collaborative close with the co-written instrumental tenderness of "Lost Love Blues and a charming Broadway meets Chevalier vocal duet, "People Will Say We're In Love .
If you bemoan the passing of exquisite sessions that combine artfully played swing with tender ballads in a romantic setting, prepare yourself for a decidedly international take on that all too rare listening experience.
Tracks: The Cup Bearers; Blues for Basie; You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To; You Blew Out the Flame in My Heart; Let's Do It (Let's Fall in Love); One for Amos; Revolutionary Etude, Etude in C, Opus 10, No. 12; Moon River; What a Little Moonlight Can Do; Time Was; They Say It's Wonderful; Why Did You Tell Me: I Love You?/I Can't Believe That You're in Love with Me; Moon Shadow; The Man I Love; Lost Love Blues; People Will Say We're in Love.
Personnel: Nicki Parrott: bass, vocals; Rossano Sportiello: piano.