I remember with love one of my college professors, Hyman Lichtenstein, who would push his reading glasses up on his forehead and say with sweet earnestness, “I commend ______ to you,” when he wanted us to read a particular book or hear a piece of music. What he really meant, I think, was “This work of art has touched me deeply, and I truly want to share this joy with you.”
The phrase has stayed with me for forty years, and it is most apt here: I commend Paolo Alderighi to you.
Some of you — I hope a great many of you — know youthful Maestro Alderighi as a fleet, swinging jazz pianist. And that estimation is correct. But it is too small.
Paolo is indeed a wonderful pianist, but he is a great creative artist. What does that potentially hyperbolic phrase mean?
Each of Paolo’s performances / improvisations on his CD, PIANO SOLO, has its own textures and shape. His solos have a density and clarity I would expect from well-crafted, moving short stories. They start promisingly, they move logically through landscapes of beautiful small surprises, they end in gratifying new places.
He isn’t a violent dissecter; he doesn’t take a song, smash it to bits, and then show us the sharp-edged fragments. No, he honors the song’s original conception, but with witty sly rearrangements. It’s as if an Alderighi room might have the furniture catty-corner here and there rather than pushing all the objects in symmetry flat against the wall. He surprises, although he doesn’t aim to shock.
Thus, although he can do marvelous re-enactments: his THE KID FROM RED BANK absolutely recreates the entire Basie band for solo piano, he is apparently happiest when taking familiar songs and tilting them just a bit at one end, as if to see what will happen. He accomplishes some of this sweet sorcery through new rhythmic underpinnings: a 6/8 bass here, a small alteration of the familiar expected there.
His ballads, MY ROMANCE and HOW LONG HAS THIS BEEN GOING ON?, have a touching delicacy of phrasing, a marriage of notes played as if authentic speech. In his melodic statements on these love songs, he does not remind me of other pianists: he reminds me of Sinatra in the early Fifties, backed by strings. Paolo’s SHREVEPORT STOMP honors Mister Jelly but takes the angles and lines of that composition and uses them as a way to construct something beautiful, part-familiar, part-astonishing. His MUSKRAT RAMBLE is part rocking Creole street dance, part evocation of Louis and friends in 1926. Paolo can stomp, stride, and shout, but he is never excessively showy, never too fast or too loud.
As a pianist, he plays at the highest level: with delightful but never rigid articulation, a warm sound, a delightful touch. I felt that he and the piano were joined, rather than at odds. As a musician who thinks and feels, he is both fearless and peerless. Although he is a young man — born in 1980 — he is a rewardingly mature artist, without routines, pretension, or artifice. His mastery of the instrument serves the music, and that is both gracious and rare.
At his website, you can learn a great deal more about Paolo; you can find out about his other CDs; you can learn his touring schedule (he will be performing with a dear friend of JAZZ LIVES, Miss Stephanie Trick, all over the globe, and I expect to see them at the Thanksgiving San Diego Jazz Fest) but I earnestly suggest that you hear this young man’s new CD or hear him in person . . . he is a true artist indeed.
Here he is in 2011, with MEMORIES OF YOU:
and even more recently, in duet with Maestro Warren Vache:
He’s really something!
May your happiness increase!