Tag Archives: duet playing

SPLENDID PLAY: ROSSANO SPORTIELLO and LEWIS R TAYLOR (May 31, 2019)

I first encountered the marvelous pianist Rossano Sportiello almost fifteen years ago thanks to Dan Barrett: I was an acolyte immediately.  Maestro Sportiello’s delightful lively personality and music came from the same gracious intelligence, emotion, and mastery.

I haven’t seen the Maestro in a few years, but here is evidence that he sustains his splendid art while making it look easy.

We are indebted to Malcolm Frazer for making it possible for Rossano and the marvelous trumpeter Lewis R. Taylor to perform several unrehearsed duets at his home . . . and sharing them with us.  (The link is to Malcolm’s YouTube channel, where he presents one earthly delight after another.)  I had not heard of Lewis before these videos, but he dazzles me with a kind of unpretentious brilliance, perfectly suited to duet playing, which is, after all, the art of in-the-moment listening and responding while the music unrolls without stopping.  (I think of Jake Hanna saying, “Pay attention or you’re dead!” as the only apt commentary on this demanding art.)

Here they are: wondrous play at the highest level: I think of improvisation that is both conversational and intensely demanding, like juggling plates on the wing of a biplane — and for two, not simply solo.

I WANT TO BE HAPPY:

IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

MELANCHOLY BABY (with the less-played verse):

What beautiful gifts these two and Malcolm have given us: imperishable lyricism and swing.  If I have to drop names, I can: Fats, Johnny Guarnieri, Dick Hyman, Dave McKenna,Harry Edison, Buck Clayton, Ruby Braff . . . but the names I’d like you to go away with are Rossano Sportiello and Lewis Taylor.  Please.

May your happiness increase!

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BEYOND METAPHOR, GLORIOUS ART: “WE TWO” (DMITRY BAEVSKY and JEB PATTON)

The New Yorker‘s Whitney Balliett conveyed so much detail and feeling through poetic metaphor.  I’ve always been inspired by his approach, which seems still so much more fresh and open than the usual writing about music.

When this new CD, a duet by alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky and pianist Jeb Patton, called “WE TWO,” arrived, it delighted me, and I tried to write about it in Balliett fashion without success.  Were Jeb and Dmitry puppies chasing each other around the room?  Race-car drivers?  Olympic athletes?  Birds singing in the mist?  Nothing seemed appropriate, so I stopped.

I’m also suspicious of the venerable tradition of comparing living musicians to Ancestors, so I have tried to resist calling name after name, from Dave McKenna and Zoot Sims to Nat Cole and Lester Young to Ruby Braff and Ellis Larkins — you get the idea.  Listeners with memories may amuse themselves by “Wow, he sounds like ________ here,” but many musicians would be delighted to find themselves compared to Patton and Baevsky.

Consider this:

To me, that is both reassuringly “old-fashioned” and dazzlingly in the here-and-now.  I played the CD for a friend, who said, musingly, when it was over, “I didn’t know they still made records like this.”  We agreed that it was intimate and tender (EASY TO LOVE and DON’T LET THE SUN CATCH YOU CRYING) and dazzlingly acrobatic (THE SERPENT’S TOOTH) — each track completely satisfying in itself, their arrangement a wonderful work of art.

Through the sometimes dubious marvel of technology, here are two wonders:

and this:

Improvised duet playing requires a surgeon’s skill and a child’s exuberance; I hear Jake Hanna growling, “Pay attention or you’re dead!”  There’s no place to hide; passion and care must go hand in hand.  On this disc, through several playings and replayings, I hear a wondrous marriage of intelligence and feeling: the skill that makes anything Dmitry and Jeb able to be create rewarding realizations in sound, the precision that makes for exactness at any tempo the place from which they start, and the deep emotional range that makes this duo masters of any song they attempt, whether a dreamy ballad or a high-speed slalom.  And they enhance the original melodies rather than discard them.  Spiritually connected, they shine as individuals and we get to hear their wonderful synergy, where 1 + 1 = much more than 3.

You can order an autographed copy of the CD here; if you prefer the digital download, visit here.  And — if the glaciers and polar bears don’t come down the street, you could catch the duo on tour, ending up at Mezzrow on December 7 and 8.  You could buy CDs there, but who could hold out that long?

May your happiness increase!