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Elizabeth Ahlfors

The Smiling Piano of Rossano Sportiello at the Café Carlyle

Rossano Sportiello Trio with “The Smiling Piano: A Tribute to the Artistry of Jazz Piano Icon George Shearing.”
Café Carlyle
980 Madison Avenue (at 76th Street). (212) 744-1600
Opens June 11, 2013
Tues., through Sat. at 8:45PM. (**No 8:45 p.m. show on June 14 - Special 10:45 p.m. show on June 14)
Cover Charge: Tues. – Thurs. General Seating: $65 per person/ Bar Seating: $45 / Premium Seating: $115
Closes June 22, 2013
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors, June 11, 2013

Once in awhile you hear of a pianist whose flingers literally seem to fly over the keyboard. It’s an overused description but one that comes to mind listening to Italian jazz pianist, Rossano Sportiello. His keyboard touch is light, precise, yet authoritative with block chords and an engaged approach to the piece that lends soaring joy to the music.

The Rossano Sportiello Trio brought to the Café Carlyle a tribute to the late jazz pianist, George Shearing, a legendary pianist of imagination and technical brilliance. Sportiello as well, is a versatile player with jazz, swing, bop, ragtime and stride, who pays homage to mentors from all schools including Bill Evans, Fats Waller and Shearing. At the same time, Sportiello is a distinctive musician, cooking in plenty of individual flavors of his own.

On opening night, while he presented a variety of moods from Cole Porter’s melancholy “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye,” to an exhilarating finale, also by Porter, “Just One of Those Things,” there was the signature sense of fun, beauty and technical musicality energizing his show. From the moment he sat down at the Carlyle piano, a broad grin on his face, he seemed to relish in the range of rhythms and tones in the program, delivering early on the lilting Shearing classic, “Lullaby of Birdland,” an ultimate feel-good melody. Sportiello followed this with an elegant, “September in the Rain” (Harry Warren). Also, after his keyboard take on Jimmy Van Heusen’s, “Call Me Irresponsible,” the pace picked up, his fingers approaching the speed virtuosity of Art Tatum, with accompanists Frank Tate’s sharp sense of swing on bass and Dennis Mackrel vibrant on drums.

Sportiello gives plenty of playing space to his accompanists, Dennis Mackrel and Frank Tate (who plays from June 11 to 15, with Joel Forges coming in from June 18 to 22. Tate had played bass for Bobby Short during Short’s last nine years with Café Carlyle, and Mackrel, also an arranger and composer, has played with various bands including the Count Basie Band. This evening, Sportiello added the exuberant stride of Basie’s “Shoe-Shine Boy”

Other notable moments include a jolting Joe Bushkin tune, “Oh, Look at Me Now,” and the arresting tenderness of two Shearing favorites, Michel Legrand’s “You Must Believe in Spring,” and “Spring is Here” by Richard Rodgers. Playing Rodgers’ “Edelweiss,” he reveals a classical sensibility, slow and soft, his touch as delicate as the Alpine flower. He segues into “Climb Every Mountain,” volume slowly increasing, with jazz pick-up textured by Mackrel’s brush.

Born and raised in Vigevano, Italy, close to Milan, Sportiello was trained in classical piano but has a special love for jazz and takes the time here to combine each with imaginative variations. Now in his mid-30’s, Rossano Sportiello lives in New York and when he delivers his programs of imaginative interpretations of jazz or classics, or both, it’s thumbs up for a delightful evening for all music lovers.



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