Youth will be served -- on a platter. Cabaret phenom Peter Cincotti, who made his debut last month at New York's prestigious Algonquin Hotel, has now released his first CD, titled, modestly enough, "Peter Cincotti." It includes six beefcake photos of the very pretty artist, who posed for the back cover clad in an undershirt. Did I mention that he's 19 years old? I guess that makes it vealcake.
Under normal circumstances, this review would have stopped right there. But Cincotti is recording for a serious jazz label, and he's accompanied by David Finck on bass and Kenny Washington on drums, two of jazz's top sidemen. All this means somebody is taking him seriously, even if only his manager, Mary Ann Topper, the super-shrewd promoter who helped make Diana Krall a superstar. So instead of pitching "Peter Cincotti" into the nearest wastebasket, I popped it into my CD player, curious as to what a 19-year-old cabaret phenom might sound like. And the answer, not surprisingly, is that he sounds like a talented 19-year-old who might -- repeat, might -- develop into an interesting singer-pianist, given enough time to grow into his oversize shoes.
Let's start with the voice. It's a Harry Connick-like high baritone, attractively light and warm in timbre, but also immature and technically dodgy. Every time Cincotti hits a raw, inadequately supported high note, you can hear the sound of puberty in the rearview mirror, and if he doesn't learn how to smooth out his top, he's going to lose it.
As for what he does with those promising pipes, the first word that comes to mind is "naive." Listen to the way he bangs out the repeated quarter-notes of the opening track, the self-penned "I Changed the Rules": "Don't keep on as-king where I've been." It sounds like a marching band clomping down the street. Yes, he phrases with greater subtlety elsewhere on the album, but you can't trust him to swing all the way through an entire tune. (His piano playing is considerably more finished, though too derivative of his models, Erroll Garner in particular.)
What about Cincotti's choice of material? Well, the three songs he co-wrote with his mom should have been left on the cutting-room floor, and someone should have told him that "Rainbow Connection" and "Spinning Wheel" are not good choices for a debut album. (Maybe he's trying to invent a new genre, kiddie cabaret.) On the other hand, I liked his slow, deliberate interpretation of "Sway," a tango that Dean Martin put on the charts a half-century ago. It's the freshest thing on "Peter Cincotti," and the one track I would have passed for release had I been the producer instead of Phil Ramone.
But, then, what do I know? I'm just a critic with an ingrained suspicion of slickly packaged singers marketed for short-term success. Cincotti is obviously talented, and just as obviously is going to make a few waves, the same way Jane Monheit has -- and for the same reasons. As for whether he'll still be packing them in at the Algonquin five years from now, well, we'll see, won't we? I just hope he doesn't stumble over the four saddest words in the music business: too much, too soon.