A pianist's precision pleasures

Posted: March 31, 2003

When it comes to Peter Cincotti, the wunderkind who played Penn's Annenberg Hall with his quartet Saturday night, the biggest question is this: Can we believe the hype?

The answer: Yes and no.

The easy answer would be to say that Cincotti is everything we've been led to believe by the latter-day Tin Pan Alley publicity machine.

Yes, he is, as a musician, mature beyond his years. He is a maddeningly exacting pianist, a true pro and craftsman who has mastered the styles of those who preceded him. As a vocalist, he is far less seasoned. But his sassiness and earnest projection of his lyrics make his work distinctive as well.

All of this leads to a question that's harder to answer. For all his talent, did Peter Cincotti provide anything that's really new? Anything original?

Besides his lyrics on songs such as the attitude-filled "I Changed the Rules" and the touching "Are You the One," most of Cincotti's work, reminiscent of the early output of his mentor, Harry Connick Jr., did not boldly go where no man had gone before. But is that what we want from our cabaret singers?

Cincotti and his ensemble gave a high-quality, straightforward performance. On "Rainbow Connection," the pianist entered the Muppet tune quietly, playing a wonderfully airy, filigreed introduction a cappella and slowly, allowing his sweet, vibrato-filled tenor to reverberate in the spaces.

"Sway," an old Dean Martin hit, was reintroduced as a smooth, slow samba, with bassist Barak Mori's careful but rock-solid backing functioning as a buoyant launching pad for Cincotti's piano work.

Cincotti appeared to have the most fun when he played piano solo, breezing through selections from Erroll Garner and Fats Waller as if they were youthful excursions.

As a pianist, Cincotti is confident and almost mathematical in his thoughts, but, best of all, he swings wildly.

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