Pianist Pete Malinverni and his new album On the Town comes at a time when I’ve already been thinking about Leonard Bernstein. It’s a day after the Oscar nominations came out, and Steven Spielberg’s new version of West Side Story did really well. Not The Power of the Dog or Dune well, but in the running for the top honors. I haven’t seen it yet, which must be a common refrain since despite stellar reviews, with many critics claiming this is far superior to the 1961 version, it’s a box-office flop.
I’m not a Broadway musical kind of guy–never have been. But I’ve always had a soft spot for West Side Story because of Leonard Bernstein’s amazing music. I still wince at the idea of choreographed gang rumbles, but when I start hearing “Somewhere,” probably among my very favorite melodies of all time, nothing else matters but the music. I think that Pete Malinverni, who once met Bernstein, understands this instant bond as well.
That’s the story behind On the Town, a Bernstein tribute inspired by sitting with the actual man and listening to him talk. Pete Malinverni builds upon this honesty and insight by creating arrangements that are inventive in the way they slowly unveil the structures behind such favorites as “Somewhere,” “I Feel Pretty” and many other compositions outside of West Side Story. Malinverni had already come up with arrangements for many Bernstein tunes written for a horn quartet to celebrate Bernstein’s 100th birthday in 2018. On the Town, however, is arranged for a stripped-down piano trio.
Drummer Jeff Hamilton and bassist Ugonna Okegwo should be commended as well for this brilliant album, as they seem just as obsessively engaged as Pete Malinverni when it comes to stretching out those ideas while retaining the inner beauty of the music. On the Town is exhilarating, and now I have to see the Spielberg movie. I hope others will follow, if only to remind ourselves just how gifted Leonard Bernstein was.