I guess we have to thank Harry
Connick, Jr. for making it okay for guys with leading man looks to channel
their inner Sinatra. The world has become a welcoming place for
crooning hunks with a passion for the great American songbook (as aging
heartthrob Rod Stewart calls it in his seemingly endless series of albums
made up of big band standards.) After last year's surprise (but
deserved) success of Michael Bublé, twenty-one-year-old Peter Cincotti gets
his turn up at the plate.
Just because he is young, don't
underestimate Cincotti's talents as a jazz pianist and singer. Like
Connick, Cincotti was a child prodigy who was playing with some of the
heavyweights when he was just a kid. He was schooled by the
legendary James Williams and David Finck, has gigged in some of the great
jazz clubs in Manhattan (including being the youngest artist ever to
headline at the renowned Oak Room at the Algonquin.) He played the
Montreaux Jazz Festival at seventeen, starred in the off-Broadway hit Our
Sinatra and even played the White House. He released his debut
album at twenty and now his follow-up shows his continued maturation.
Unlike the big band vibe of Bublé,
Cincotti has a much subtler, more intimate sound. Slickly produced by
Phil Ramone (Billy Joel, Rod Stewart) Cincotti's album is more like the old
small jazz combos of yore, a swinging crooner over a hot and steady group
capable of tasteful backup and also of rocking out. As a pianist,
Cincotti is a very generous front man, allowing his crack road band to shine
over him. His piano playing is very subtly unobtrusive through much of
the jumpin' jive opening "St. Louis Blues," he lets the band and his
distinctive voice carry the tune until he comes in and lays down a sweet
little solo on the 88s.
Also like Connick, while Cincotti
loves the standards, he can also write some pretty impressive songs of his
own. Nice to say, they stand up to the songs surrounding them and fit
in nicely. The title track is a simply gorgeous and haunting primer on
unrequited love. "He's Watching" is a quietly devastating ballad.
The lush and throbbing "The Girl For Me Tonight" is also wonderfully
The greatest moment here is quite
simply one of the best songs ever. His quiet bluesy take on the late
Ray Charles' "You Don't Know Me" is stunning, and it is only partly because
of the nearly perfect source material. Cincotti's voice takes on the
ache of a man who knows he will never get the one woman that he loves.
It's quite a nuanced performance. He also does a lovely take on the
doo-wop classics "Up On the Roof" and a hopping version of "Some Kind of
Wonderful." A playful version of "I Love Paris" and Andrew Lippa's
"Raise the Roof" are also spicy barn-burners.
I do have to admit, some of the song
choices are a little bit odd. "Bali Ha'i" is a very pretty song, but
there is a reason why it is only performed anymore by students in high school
productions of South Pacific. The song is so much a product of
its time and its environment that even when it is sung perfectly nicely,
like it is here, it still stands out like a sore thumb.
However, for the most part, the
songs work it for Cincotti, and by the time he shows off his piano prowess
on the closing instrumental "Cherokee," you've got to give it up to him.
The kid has some moves. (10/04)