BERNSTEIN: New York, New York. Lucky to Be Me. Somewhere. Cool. Simple Song. I Feel Pretty. Lonely Town. Some Other Time. It’s Love. A Night on the Town / Pete Malinverni, pno; Ugonna Okegwo, bs; Jeff Hamilton, dm / Planet Arts Recordings, no number
Following in the tradition of Bobby Sanabria’s 2018 recording of West Side Story with the Multiverse Big Band, we have this neat trio album of Bernstein songs which also includes pieces from On the Town. But Malinverni was more fortunate than Sanabria because once, at a “swanky restaurant in New York” many years ago, he happened to be playing Lucky to Be Me when Bernstein himself popped in and enjoyed his rendition.
Simple though the instrumentation is, Malinverni’s arrangements of these Bernstein chestnuts are not only swinging but very clever and inventive. I think Bernstein would really enjoy this album, scheduled for release on January 14, because of these two things. Though a more traditional player than many of the pianists (and other jazz musicians) I’ve been reviewing of late, Malinverni’s playing is neither simplistic nor predictable. He seems to combine some elements of Tristano and Brubeck in his style (and just a touch of Monk), albeit with definite twists of his own, thus he makes real jazz pieces out of this material and not just simplistic “lounge jazz.”
And boy oh boy, does this trio swing! Bassist Okegwo and drummer Hamilton function most of the time almost as one instrument behind him, laying down a solid beat, propelling the music forward, and never getting in the pianist’s way, and when they do get their solos (as on Lucky to Be Me) they feed into the surrounding material with aplomb. There’s a wonderful joie-de-vivre in each and every track on this delightful album that makes you happy just listening to it, and heaven knows that we can use this sort of vibe in today’s maudlin, downcast culture of Covid fear.
The best description I can give of this album is “deceptively simple.” Nothing that Malinverni plays will scare off a mainstream jazz buff, but his ability to play between the cracks of the rhythm in each and every solo keep one listening. You just never know where he’s going to go next, and that’s the fun. His arrangement of Cool, which opens with a nice little drum solo, is then launched by a repeated four-note lick in the bass. It’s one of the best arrangements on the entire CD, and in his solo beginning at the 4:12 mark, Malinverni definitely channels his inner Monk.
Malinverni uses an odd sort of rhythm on Simple Song to make it sound less simple, and in I Feel Pretty he uses a Brubeck-like intro to this deceptively “plain” tune., which switches from its original 6/8 to a more swinging 4 in the improvisation.
Throughout the set, in every piece he plays, Malinverni takes the same care to try to find something just a bit different in it to give it interest, and for the most part he succeeds beautifully. Some Other Time is given a beat similar to Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme, while on It’s Love we’re back to swinging.
A very enjoyable album; perhaps not the apex of great art, but it’s inventive and will put a smile on your face. Better than listening to Chopin!
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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