Scott Hamilton & Rossano Sportiello: Midnight at Nola’s Penthouse

Given the extraordinary array of musicians he’s collaborated with over the years, it’s easy to endorse saxophonist Scott Hamilton’s choices when it comes to selecting session mates. This collaboration with pianist Rossano Sportiello represents one more savvy, delightful pairing.

Mind you, Hamilton isn’t exactly going out on limb here. A Barry Harris protégé, the Italian-born, New York-based Sportiello has already distinguished himself on numerous recordings. Like Hamilton, he’s well versed in swing traditions-some of the performances on this release all but shout out, “We’re old fashioned”-and yet there’s nothing remotely studious about his playing. Not one to sit idly by while the focus is on Hamilton, Sportiello laces the ballads with dovetailing countermelodies and charges the swing tunes (or brisk mid-song excursions) with an assertive left hand. His flair for sustaining the mood Hamilton establishes with his resonating tenor is evident throughout the album, no matter the tempo. For proof, check out the duo’s now sentimental, now exuberant take on “Come Back to Sorrento,” the Italian template for “It’s Now or Never,” the early ’60s Elvis Presley hit. Or, better yet, check out the contrasting back-to-back interpretations of “A Garden in the Rain” and “This Can’t Be Love.”

Apart from some tunes that deserve to be heard more often, listeners who prize Hamilton’s recordings won’t find much surprising here, just the customary warmth, lyricism and unfussy swing. That Sportiello sounds utterly comfortable in this setting is testimony to his talent and to the saxophonist’s taste.