Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Alberto Pibili's Jazz Legacy

From the opening bars, Alberto Pibili's piano sounds old-fashioned--at least in the contemporary jazz sense. Perhaps that's why he calls his new album Jazz Legacy, because he's one of those jazz pianists who is firmly planted in tradition. But that's glossing over the main point, which is that this Italian-born and raised musician absolutely adores Oscar Peterson. The liner notes declare that Pibiri can "duplicate" Peterson's playing note for note, but pure mimicry is certainly no way to build a reputation in the world of contemporary jazz. What Pibiri has done in Jazz Legacy is create mostly original compositions that have evolved into more than a mere tribute--he plays these songs as if Oscar had decided to record them himself, and did.

That means these tracks are strong on the use of melody during improvisation, and there's just a hint of old boogey-woogey as well. Peterson was measured, careful and yet still lyrical in the understated way he played. He was also technically brilliant, through and through. Pibiri captures each one of these cornerstones with these new songs, which brings up quite a challenge--it's difficult to compare Pibili's style to Peterson's since these are entirely new songs that Peterson never played. The listener is first required to know Peterson, and then recognize how Peterson employed his trademark sound while performing. That can be tough for the novice since Peterson was so precise in his melodic interpretations that his "style" can be difficult to put into words. It's more of a feel, a perfection.

If you're an Oscar Peterson fan, in other words, this will be a true test of your devotion. If you're not, don't worry. This is a lovely album, full of brilliant playing by both Pibili and his quartet--bassist Paul Gill, drummer Paul Wells and sax and clarinet player Adrian Cunningham. We also get the amazing and ubiquitous Dave Stryker on guitar on Miriam Waks' "Oh Yeah!" and a trio of singers on a handful of tracks--Waks, Shelia Jordan and Jay Clayton. Overall, there's a theme of gentility throughout, a feeling that's part of a hazy memory that always manages to induce a smile.

As I mentioned in the beginning, the feel of this album is decidedly old-fashioned. That means we're treated to original compositions that are, by design, arranged to sound like they are at least fifty years old. That might be the most impressive part of this album, that young Pibiri can both play and compose just like his idol without having been alive during Peterson's peak years. Jazz Legacy sounds like the type of tribute written by an old friend, someone who shared the stage with Peterson for many years and knew what it was like to feel that energy first-hand. That's pretty amazing when you think about it that way.

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