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April 2008

Renato Sellani/Massimo Moriconi
Blues for Chet
Philology

Even in the Information Age, isolationism and ethnocentrism persist in jazz. Renato Sellani is 81, and is a pianist of singular elegance, wisdom and charm. He is almost completely unknown in the United States. In Italy, where he is addressed as “maestro,” he inspires the kind of love and reverence that Hank Jones receives in America.

Blues for Chet, a duo album with the eloquent bassist Massimo Moriconi, contains standards associated with Chet Baker. Sellani is a romantic, a graceful melodist and a constantly surprising improviser. His normal touch is a gentle, precise caress, but it can intensify in a heartbeat, creating startling swings in dynamics. His obvious love for the melodies here does not keep him from creatively fracturing them and taking harmonic liberties. Songs are played in meaningful pairings, flowing from one to another in little medleys. Sellani’s “Blues for Chet” (the only original) bounces brightly, more celebration of Baker than lament, then subsides and reemerges as a deep contemplation of “Stella by Starlight.”

Sellani’s interpretation of “My Funny Valentine” is freer than any of Baker’s, but it contains as many open spaces of existential silence before it becomes a much more extroverted “But Not for Me.” Any question of whether Sellani is the real deal is answered by “My Foolish Heart”: He barely touches it but makes it softly glow, as if by lighting one candle over it, then another. It may be the most moving version of the song since Bill Evans’.

Originally published in April 2008
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