PIRIBI: The Nacho Blues. BALLARD: Mr. Sandman. ELLINGTON: It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing). BLOOM-MELROSE: Melancholy. BLACK-PURVIS: When the Saints Go Marching In. GARNER: Misty. PIRIBI: The Lonely Worm. The Twist Finder. HOWARD: Fly Me to the Moon. ROTA: Speak Softly, Love. DE MORAES: So Danço Samba. J. & C. WECHTER: Spanish Flea Rag / Alberto Piribi & the Al Peppers: Don Blankinship, tpt; Piribi, pno; Daniel Foose, bs; Brian Floody, dm / self-produced CD
Italian pianist and quartet leader Alberto Piribi here channels his inner Herb Alpert with a tribute to the Tijuana Brass. For those too old or too young to remember, in the mid-1960s Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass was one of the hottest acts in the music world. His LPs—not just his singles—sold in the millions, he was forced to move from just using studio musicians to forming a permanent touring band, and off he went, filling the air with such pop classics as A Taste of Honey, Tijuana Taxi, Spanish Flea, Zorba the Greek and others.
And yes, I was a huge Tijuana Brass fan. The arrangements were not only catchy but so well written that I couldn’t get enough of them…at least not until Alpert put down his horn and began singing. His trumpet playing was spirited and jazzy. His singing was mediocre at best, but he had a huge hit with This Guy’s in Love With You, and thus the brass was abandoned.
Piribi does a good job of capturing that band’s spirit, and he plays more jazz at the piano than Alpert’s original keyboardist did. Trumpeter Don Blankinship does a fine job of imitating Alpert’s crisp, snappy style. But without the trombone and second trumpet that Alpert used, the sound just isn’t quite full enough. Thus what we have here is basically a piano trio with an Alpert-like trumpet in the foreground.
Still, the arrangements are very clever. Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing is given in an uptempo Latin beat while Rube Bloom’s Melancholy is slowed down to a sort of slow R&B-type number. In the latter, Blankinship interjects some blues licks with his trumpet over the leader’s piano solo, and later plays a fairly nice solo of his own. When the Saints Go Marching In is turned into an uptempo spiritual in the Professor Longhair-Dr. John style, which Piribi plays extremely well. Brian Floody takes a great drum break on this one but, oddly enough, Blankinship lays out. The trumpeter does return on Misty, however, playing it straight while Piribi and bassist Daniel Foose handle the solo chores.
Next up are two Piribi originals, The Lonely Worm and The Twist Finder. The first of these starts out with a tango beat played by the leader in the left hand with the simple tune played in the right. This, too, is just a piano trio performance, but in The Twist Finder he channels Chubby Checker as well as Alpert, combining a Latin and twist rhythm in the same tune. Fly Me to the Moon and Só Danço Samba are perfect choices for a Tijuana Brass treatment though, again, I miss the trombone and second trumpet. Speak Softly, Love is, of course, Nino Rota’s tune from the Godfather movies, and is given a quasi-ballad treatment. Piribi plays in a cocktail-lounge piano style on this one.
The finale is a variation on a real Tijuana Brass hit tune, Spanish Flea, here transformed into ragtime. Piribi plays it as a piano solo, acoustically recorded to make it sound like an antique record and with some authentic ragtime licks thrown in for laughs. And he makes it work.
As long as you approach this as an album for summer listening and not as a work of art, you’ll enjoy it. It IS a fun album, after all!
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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