Rossano Sportiello new CDs aka Where's the stride piano?

Our faithful readers should be aware that two new CDs by Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello were released in the last months of 2009.

Do It Again (Arbors ARCD 19387) is his second duet disc with Australian bassist and vocalist Nicki Parrott. Those who listened to the previous one, People Will Say We're In Love (Arbors ARCD 19335, 2007) will know what to expect: virtuoso performances and astounding ability to read the other musician's mind, this is, pure chemistry. But this time they've gone one step further, within a context of more stylistically varied tunes: bop, classical, show tunes, standards and ballads. A few surprises are waiting to be discovered, such as the crispy rendition of Tommy Flanagan's "Sea Changes", the suggestive title tune, "Do It Again", the fragile rendition of Ellington's "Fleurette Africaine" or the vocal duet, "Two Sleepy People".

It Amazes Me (Sackville SKCD2-3072) starts with a focus on ballads and slow tempos, showing how Sportiello has matured as a pianist, and allowing him to showcase his elegant touch, full of nuances, his flowing lyricism and his intelligent use of space and silence. A couple of Barry Harris tunes (let's not forget Harris was one of his mentors) and "Dearest, You're The Nearest To My Heart" do turn the engine on, and the climax is built up at the end with "Chinatown My Chinatown", "When I Grow Too Old To Dream" and "Sleep", where a few choruses of shout piano are interspersed.

Both discs are stunningly beautiful and highly recommended.

Liner notes for Do It Again, written by Elliott Simon, show once again that certain jazz writers tend to confuse and mix up all early jazz piano styles. On "Of Foreign Lands And People", he states that "(...) in and exceedingly clever personal take on the theme he (Sportiello) stylistically shifts into a stride inspired variation that jolts the listener from innocence to adulthood and exposes stride's indebtnedness to classical and Sportiello's own debt to stride king Ralph Sutton" and on "Do It Again" he comments that "Nicki and Rossano use sultry understatement and a bit of stride piano styling to update this classic." Well, nice literature, but no hint of stride piano is included in neither of these performances. In the first one, after a straight exposition of Schumann's theme, Sportiello shifts up the tempo and immerses himself in a very swinging chorus, with his right hand gently jumping in an style very reminiscent of Teddy Wilson, and his left hand (and Parrott's bass) playing some "walking" patterns, that not even remotely reminds us of stride piano. And where on earth do you hear stride piano on "Do It Again", mister?

On the other hand, our commentator writes that, in "Liza", "Sportiello shows his respect for pianist Art Tatum and his own combination of speed and precision in adding his take to the repository of versions of this nugget", not mentioning stride at all. Oh boy, besides the two versions recorded by Tatum for Decca in 1934 (one in August and one in October), you should also listen to James P. Johnson's Asch recording in 1945 or any of the live recordings by Donald Lambert to discover where the stride choruses in Sportiello's version come from (yes, stride, this is the stride chestnut of the disc!). End of rant.

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