Peter Cincotti possesses a voice of promise. Vocally, at 19 he is years ahead of his mentor Harry Connick Jr., even to the point that the performances on his Concord Records debut don’t hold up against his live perf. As a singer and pianist, Cincotti is presenting songs as a communicator, giving lyrics dry, clear enunciation and soloing in a manner that complements the texture of a tune rather than demonstrates his keyboard prowess.
If we are to believe Cincotti has found his voice at this young age, something Connick didn’t do until he was 30, he has found it in the vocalizing of a young Louis Prima, before the Vegasy showboating became a part of his act. He projects as a Broadway tenor would, serving the lyric foremost on “Raise the Roof” from “The Wild Party” or the 63-year-old “This Is New” from the pens of Ira Gershwin and Kurt Weill. Cincotti is hitting the notes just so and executing with precision; his voice is a welcome addition to the world of male jazz vocalists, bereft of individualists save for Kurt Elling and few others.
On his own compositions, “I Changed the Rules” and “The Girl I Knew,” he evokes the image of a brooding Hoagy Carmichael. Cincotti is at his most relaxed playing his own songs, each possessing a bit of a throwback melody and sentiment — his “Are You the One?” would have been prime candidate for the Prima songbook alongside numbers such as “Judy.”
Much as auds are wont to hear youngsters such as Cincotti pay their respects to the songs of yore, Cincotti brings a healthy dose of influences to the keyboard that are hardly sprung from some jazz museum. “Sway,” the Norman Gimbel-Pablo Ruiz tune that was a hit for Dean Martin and Rosemary Clooney, gets a straightforward vocal interpretation and then heads into an extended, delightfully spry soul-jazz romp. He plays Paul McCartney’s “Fool on the Hill” melody as a dirge and then shifts to a similar timbre on “Nature Boy” that benefits from his exact articulation; the solo for “Miss Brown” displays his flair for ornamentation and his controlled use of piano tricks.
Cincotti’s debut has sold nearly 19,000 albums in the month since it was released. It arrived in stores with the artist’s reputation stamped by rave notices for his appearances at Gotham cabaret rooms and next week begins a major TV barrage for this rather photogenic musician. He may well have been surprised by the sparse turnout for his second set on opening night, but it’s testimony to him that he still delivered the goods.