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Renato Sellani: Standards

Renato Sellani and Gianni Basso were among the leaders of Italian jazz in the late 1940s, and they still play their butts off.

Standards is a piano-trio date containing 14 staple items from the Great American Songbook. Sellani approaches material like “Lover Man” and “Autumn Leaves” and “Body and Soul” with such thoughtful composure and understatement that he can create an initial impression of blandness. But by declining extroversion, Sellani compels the listener to come to him. By the second time through, Standards weaves a spell whose forces of attraction are gently irresistible. Sellani’s touch is so graceful, and his ideas about these songs so subtle, that his program feels like a suite, a unified meditation on an internationally shared history.

Sellani’s “My Foolish Heart” is different from the Bill Evans version in key (B flat instead of A), shape (symmetrical instead of broken) and tempo (regular instead of halting) but shares its poignant, pensive suspension. Sellani played with the most famous interpreter of “My Funny Valentine,” Chet Baker, but Sellani’s presentation is his own, a single legato sinuous line.

Sellani and tenor saxophonist Gianni Basso played together in the Basso- Valdambrini Quintet (an important Italian ensemble of its era) half a century ago, and all the kinks have been worked out of their musical relationship. Their interactions on I Wish I Knew are seamless. Basso’s saxophone sound is light and suave. He is warm, amiable company, even if his renditions of classic material (“Autumn in New York,” “The Man I Love,” “East of the Sun”) contain few surprises.

These two sessions sound different, though they were recorded on successive days with the same rhythm section in the same Milan studio by the same engineer, Paolo Falascone. The bass and drums of Massimo Moriconi and Massimo Manzi are more distant on Standards. Sonically, the Basso session is more vivid.

Originally Published