Peter Viani – Solo Launch (2013)

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Peter Viani, who had a memorable late-1970s tenure in the Frank Sinatra band, offers series of solo recitations that are lyrical but never lightweight. In fact, whereas many a one-man keyboard excursion has devolved into well-meaning meandering, Viani keeps a tight hold on the reins – moving with lithe confidence across a variety of styles, while never getting bogged down in any of them. That smart sense of propulsion is underscored by the track listing on Solo Launch. He includes but one original, the lovely “Closeness,” but Viani’s choice of cover material is often offbeat – and, more particularly, often upbeat – as he takes on selections from Joe Henderson to Jimmy Rowles to Oliver Nelson.

Viani hints at what’s the come on the opening piece “Moment to Moment,” from the Henry Mancini songbook. It is, on balance, a reading that can be touching and sensitive, yet Viani edges into an aggressive, almost stride-influenced stance at times, giving the track spicy new attitude. Not that he can’t play it straight, as on Dave Brubeck’s familiar “In Your Own Sweet Way,” which finds Viani playing it closer to the vest, taking fewer chances but still imbuing the song with a crystalline beauty. Viani, who has studied over the years with Joseph Maneri, Hank Edmonds and Don Friedman, begins Rowles’ “The Peacocks” as something quieter still – wine dark and filled with a stoic romanticism. But then Viani begins unleashing these thrilling, tumbling asides which dynamite the tune’s stately posture, while his smart use of quiet recalls the angular brilliance of Monk.

Sammy Fain’s “Love is a Many Splendored Thing” is given an upbeat reading, and Viani’s gentle bounce sparks something surprising: The joy of hearing a very well-worn song born anew. He performs similar reconstructive wonders on Richard Rodgers’ “It’s Easy to Remember,” a track that arrives at this late date without much tread on the tires. Viani’s careful but never fussy approach to a ballad is particularly welcome here, as he explores the theme with a painterly eye – adding new splashes of color without changing the song’s essential landscape.

The heart of the album, however, can be found on a trio of covers that happily recall the hard-playing, but technically brilliant style of Oscar Peterson: “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Recordame” and “Butch and Butch.”

“Someday,” the Frank Churchill composition best remembered in jazz circles for Miles Davis’ 1961 iteration, is presented with a delicate strength, moving from a somber quietude to those smartly percussive phrasings. Viani stays in that boisterous mood for Henderson’s “Recordame,” combining stride and swing devices to create Solo Launch’s most groove-focused delight. Meanwhile, no one familiar with Nelson’s work would be surprised to hear some simmering R&B touches in a rendition of “Butch and Butch,” yet there’s something to be said for the attack Viani brings to these proceedings: He plays, at times, like a man possessed – not exactly what you’d expect from a piano recording, done all alone. But that’s actually in keeping with a career that has included appearances everywhere from the Le Cirque restaurant to Michael Feinstein’s in Manhattan. There doesn’t seem to be much that Viani can’t do.

“Closeness,” the lone original, recalls the off-kilter lyricism of an Andrew Hill or a Roger Kellaway, taking what might have been a too-on-the-nose sentiment and carrying it on an intense and labyrinthine journey. Viani then closes with a rollicking version of Arthur Schwartz’s “Then I’ll be Tired of You.” Generously voiced, with a momentous cadence, this effusive track sends the accomplished, endlessly involving Solo Launch out with a bang.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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