Venturing Into Bop Territory, Armed With Renditions of Standards
The Italian jazz pianist Rossano Sportiello and his trio belong to a conservative tradition that treats jazz as a kind of chamber music closely aligned with classical keyboard. George Shearing, the pianist who they honored in the show “The Smiling Piano: A Tribute to the Artistry of Jazz Piano Icon George Shearing” on Saturday evening at the Café Carlyle, belonged to the same school. The emphasis is on refinement, scrupulously avoiding harsh textures and grating dissonances to conjure pleasurable languor.
Mr. Sportiello — like Mr. Shearing, who died in 2011 — ventures into bop territory but always with a restrained sense and balance and proportion. Mr. Shearing’s most famous composition, “Lullaby of Birdland,” and his first hit, “September in the Rain,” were rendered with flawless grace. Working in the stride tradition, Mr. Sportiello showed technical virtuosity to echo that of Art Tatum. (On this night he was joined by Frank Tate on bass and Dennis Mackrel on drums.)
The pop-classical connection was frequently emphasized as Mr. Sportiello inserted little classical tags into his renditions of standards. A light, skipping version of Leonard Bernstein’s tune for “Lucky to Be Me” from “On the Town” segued into a piece by Liszt.
Only in a medley of songs from “The Sound of Music” did Mr. Sportiello seem somewhat disengaged. For the most part the music was unabashedly beautiful, especially in two songs associated with Bill Evans, “You Must Believe in Spring” and “Spring Is Here.”