Volume 75, Number 10 | July 27 - Aug. 2, 2005

Abigail Feldman Photo

Pete Malinverni, a regular facet of the NYC jazz scene, is releasing a new solo CD.

Pianist inspired by Downtown streets

Artist’s new CD to combine jazz and choir influences

By Rick Marx

The pianist Pete Malinverni doesn’t need to worry about inspiration. Whenever he’s feeling stuck, he’ll step out of his apartment at Sixth Avenue and Houston to collect his thoughts and find a little inspiration. “The Downtown is a huge part of it,” he says. “First of all, it offers inspiration because of the life of the Village. If I’m having trouble getting going in the morning, I take a quick half-hour walk in the Village. I’m trying to open my mind and practice.”

He might stop for a quick espresso at Rocco’s on Bleecker Street before getting down to the business of playing, practicing, or composing.

Malinverni, who has resided in the area since 1983, is a renowned leader and accompanist you may have seen leading a trio or performing solo at the Jazz Gallery on Hudson Street, Sweet Rhythm on Seventh Ave. South, Bradley’s, the Village Gate, the Blue Note, Zinno, the Village Corner, or the Village Vanguard, where he has played with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

Malinverni leads a musical double life, at the Devoe Street Baptist Church. As pastor of music at the church, he spends his Sundays creating music that not only complements the service but serves to stir the souls of the parishioners as well. Along the way, he’s undergone something of a spiritual awakening.

“It’s affected completely my life on the bandstand as a jazz musician,” he said. “I’ve learned in the church that I’m just a vessel for the music and not its creator. All I really have to do is practice hard, study hard, and prepare myself, so that when the music comes, I can execute it.”

He recently presented “To the Rock,” a suite comprising gospel and jazz arrangements made up of musical arrangements of various psalms, at the church, and the music continues to infuse his jazz moods.

His new jazz CD, which he just recorded in the city’s Avatar Studios, pulls from both the jazz and church influences.

“It’s all part of the journey,” said Malinverni. “It’s a function of stretching. Two years I had only made trio records or group recordings. Now I’m working hard on the piano and finding certain things are best said alone.

“Work with the choir has led me into writing more and more beautiful jazz ensembles and choir music. By design I’m doing things with no template. I want to see what happens.”

Malinverni may be best known for his trio performances with Leroy Williams and Dennis Irwin, with whom he has recorded and played extensively. The trio recorded “Of One Mind,” “This Time,” “Autumn in New York,” and “A Very Good Year.” His latest, “The Tempest,” is laced with juicy jazz standards like “It Could Happen to You” and “Get Happy.”

The new CD will be Malinverni’s first solo effort.

“I’m looking forward to it,” says Malinverni. “It’s just like everything else — with freedom comes responsibility.”

He defined the difference between solo and trio performance. “When you’re preparing for a trio recording as leader, you pick the material and kind of need to come up with suggestions for how things might go, and then you can trust the chemistry of the group. That will naturally develop with people you’ve hopefully chosen wisely. When it’s solo, you know it all has to start and end at the piano. That’s sort of daunting.”

For the project, Malinverni said he will use the piano as his rhythm section. “The piano can complete the entire musical range,” said Malinverni. “It’s a different sort of focus. When you’re with a trio, you’re using your ears. There’s a lot of give and take among players. This is all going to be coming from me.”

The project will consist of a prelude, about 10 or 12 measures long, that Malinverni will play and improvise variations, forming an “intelligent arc,” as he describes it.

“The goal in any performance is that the music has the same high formal harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic qualities as the greatest orchestral and jazz music,” he said. “I always say that even though we improvise as jazz musicians, we have to hold that to the light of great music that has come before — music of every genre.”

Recent jazz performances he’s enjoyed include the pianist Barry Harris at the Vanguard (“an exquisite thing”), “Jazz Italiano,” with great jazz musicians from Italy at the Zinc Bar, and “hearing the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra is great,” said Malinverni. “They’re the best musicians in New York.”

While drawing from diverse influences, Malinverni is adamant that he doesn’t want to be a copycat. “I’ve been listening since I was a baby,” he said. “I don’t want in any way to mirror or mimic anything I’ve heard before. You’re the result of the conglomeration of your influences, but the thing is, I want to see what I can come up with. I want it to be wholly new.”

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