A concept record of sorts, pianist Pete Malinverni was initially inspired to put his Invisible Cities project together after reading the Italian novelist Italo Calvino's book of the same name. Though the CD is full of good jazz improvisation (with a truly wonderful rhythm team of bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Tom Melito), it also seems to be in conflict: whether to be as ambitious in concept as the book might suggest or simply to play some good, honest swinging jazz.
"Cities & Time," for instance, is a piece that starts with an ostinato in the bass and drums and then brings in the horns of trumpeter Tim Hagans and saxophonist Rich Perry almost as if in another, slower tempo. It sounds like it might travel through new urban territory (particularly welcome after the overly cute arrangement of "Chicago"), but this adventure is short: 'head-in,' a tasty and skillful piano solo and then 'head-out,' the shortest track on the CD. "Istanbul," "Chicago" and "There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York" swing beautifully, Melito's drumming having a Mel Lewis quality and Okegwo with exemplary tone and pulse. The band sounds most at home on these types of tunes, while Malinverni's composing and playing is at its greatesthis playing always excellentin the slower, reflective pieces. For instance, "Salem-Hester Pryne" is a gorgeous ballad in 3/4 with a 24-measure form that allows the piano and flugelhorn to relax and really explore the alluring harmonies for two choruses each.
While not wanting to hold Malinverni accountable to how the music on this CD parallels the book, two salient features of Calvino's work could present any composer with interesting, possible musical analogs: the poetic language of the descriptions of the "cities" and the revolutionary structure of the book itself (55 short chapters grouped into 9 sections). On the structural aspects of the music, most of the pieces simply follow the usual head-solos-head form, but the poetic musical language is definitely there on pieces like "Salem-Hester Pryne" and "New Orleans-Cities & Desire." When this band is swinging, it's top notch on this welcome tour guide.
Track Listing: I Love Paris; New Orleans - Cities & Desire; Chicago; Venice--Cities & Memory; Cities & Time; Lonely Town; Istanbul; Salem--Hester Prynne; There's a Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York; A City Called Heaven.
Personnel: Pete Malinveri: piano; Tim Hagans: trumpet & flugelhorn; Rich Perry: tenor saxophone; Ugonna Okegwo: bass; Tom Melito: drums.