Pianist-singer Peter Cincotti, just 21 and with two albums under his belt, appears to be tiring of the idea that he’ll accept a role as keeper of the Great American Songbook. In a 75-minute set, Cincotti showed himself to be a confident performer whose interpretive skills have developed beyond those found on his latest Concord album, “On the Moon.” On the flip side, he brought out two brand-spanking new tunes that reveal a troubling flair for imitation; much as he’s inspired by Harry Connick Jr. as a performer, his songwriting has him posited as a carbon copy of Billy Joel.
Cincotti’s originals on record owe more to pop singer-songwriters of the mid-1970s — James Taylor, Randy Edelman, J.D. Souther — than Tin Pan Alley masters. At his best, he makes it work as a potential lineage that includes Broadway and the Brill Building. But these two new tunes, which not only have the Joel trademarks of banging chords and an oppressive first-person, singular perspective, he even pronounces “Hollywood” the same way Joel did when he said goodbye to the town. Were Cincotti trying to get signed right now with this material — singing about how he’s “the music man at night” and “making it out alive” — it’s doubtful anyone would listen twice.
Evening started, however, on a far stronger note. His sultry version of Norman Gimbel’s “Sway” wowed as did a percussive “I Love Paris,” a funky take on “Bali Ha’i” and a charming “Ain’t Misbehavin’ ” for an encore. He treats “Some Kind of Wonderful” as if Carole King had written it during her early ’70s performing heyday rather than for the Drifters in the early 1960s. A straightforward reading of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia” was thrown in to show off the band’s considerable jazz chops.
Much as Connick showed himself to be light years ahead of his latest recording whenever he ht the stage in his early 20s, so, too, is Cincotti showing an engaging poise and a clarity in his vocal and piano articulation. He has a future creating melodic pop music, provided that music isn’t marked by the scars of earlier eras.
Cincotti, who makes his bigscreen debut playing pianist Dick Behrke in “Beyond the Sea,” returns to L.A. on March 4 at Disney Concert Hall.