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On the Moon

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I have to say it: I was all ready to dislike Peter Cincotti and his sophmore effort, “On the Moon.” Here’s this twenty-one year old pretty boy, featured in Glamour magazine, labeled the “Boy Wonder” in a cover article in Fanfair magazine, and named “2003 Sexy Singer” in People’s annual “sexiest” issue in stupidity. And I’m thinking: overrated. Overexposed. And probably way overhyped. But you know what? The guy the New York Times called “prodigiously talented” and a “pop-jazz throwback” is really pretty good. He’s been compared to Harry Connick Jr. and to be honest, I found On the Moon to be at least as musically intriguing as Connick’s most recent release, Only You.

Last year, Cincotti became the youngest solo artist ever to top Billboard’s traditional jazz chart with his self-titled debut CD. And like Connick (who has a slew of albums documenting his musical evolution, including a CD produced when he was all of eleven), Cincotti developed his talent early: in high school, he performed at major clubs throughout Manhattan, studied with jazz masters David Finck and James Williams, starred in an off-Broadway hit called Our Sinatra, and performed at the White House. Finally out of his teens, he lets this second album reflect his maturing musical taste, both by writing some of his own songs and picking some standards to cover that offer a bit more variety.

We’ve got some funk in “St. Louis Blues” and a graceful, evocative rendition of “I Love Paris” that goes down smooth every time. He croons his way through “Some Kind of Wonderful” and then lets his fingers do the walking (across the ivories, that is) on “Cherokee.” While it might be a little harsh to say some of his own songs are a bit on the pedantic side, I guess it does have to be said that they reflect the reality that they’re written by a twenty-year old, no matter how “old” his soul. Still, the cocky seduction of “The Girl for Me Tonight” and the heartfelt commitment of “He’s Watching” offer glimpses that he really might be more than just a pretty face (or in this case, a pretty voice).

All in all, On the Moon is a worthwhile adventure with a young jazzy singer-songwriter who is truly able to ramp the piano’s tempo up to something above warp seven (his mad dash through “Cherokee” proves that beyond question). He’s backed by a sold string and horn section, plus the occasional guitarist and blues harmonica, and the mix is an eclectic, funky mix of youthful exuberance and old standards. What he lacks in terms of the raw earthiness of someone like Ray Charles (one of his mentors and “favorite musicians of all time”) he makes up for in a casual, cockeyed urban sophistication that makes On the Moon an intriguing disc to spin.

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About Bill Wallo