Thursday, November 12, 2020

"Candlelight" time during the pandemic: Juliet Kurtzman and Pete Malinverni

Candlelight  Love in the Time of Cholera 
Juliet Kurtzman and Pete Malinverni

There is a sense of anticipation when I attend a performance by or listen to a new album from the pianist/educator Pete Malinverni. I have had the good fortune to have met this gifted musician on several occasions, mostly at his entertaining jazz afternoons at the Pound Ridge Community Church in New York, when I lived in nearby Connecticut.  I even had the chance to do an illuminating interview with the pianist around the time of the release of his album A Beautiful Thing in 2013. 

Malinverni is one of those rare musicians that exudes an aura of authenticity, wonder, and joy when he plays, and he seems to have found an important validity, a spirituality, a faith that sustains him through music. As he has said, “Music to me is the voice of God…” 

At SUNY Purchase, where he is the Director of Jazz Studies, Pete has been instrumental as an educator and mentor, inspiring a growing group of up and coming musicians.

On his latest album Candlelight, Love in the Time of Cholera, Malinverni is joined by the violinist Juliet Kurtzman, a new name to me. She is a classically trained violinist from Houston who has performed as a soloist with the Houston Symphony, studied at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and joined the Luzern Orchestra in Switzerland as first violinist.

The duo presents a musical hybrid, an amalgam blending classical chamber sensibilities with jazz colorations arranged and accompanied by Malinverni on piano and featuring the gorgeous sensitivity of Kurtzman’s emotive violin. 

In the liner notes, Malinverni relates, “In times of upheaval- war, pestilence, heartbreak-there are things we turn for solace and enlightenment. Love, passion, and living for others…allowing us to reach beyond ourselves, confidently face adversity, and find the good.”

Candlelight, Love in the Time of Cholerain no small part, is inspired by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's romantic story. The book celebrates lovesickness that is likened to having cholera. The yearning endures despite half of a century of love being unrequited. Today we are faced with our own pandemic; a viral scourge that has immobilized our daily lives and stymied our personal contacts. It has cramped our creativity, erased our civility and trust, and tested our resolve. But creativity cannot be forever thwarted. Matching up the seemingly disparate elements, structured classical and improvisational jazz, these two artists demonstrate the universality of music and the joy that it can bring as an elixir of hope to get us through these trying times.

The Argentinian music of the tango is beautifully expressed throughout the album.  Malinverni’s opening “Pulcinella” is modern and vibrant. Gardel’s moving but more traditional “Por Una Cabeza” finds Kurtzman the most expressive and sensitive. Malinverni’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” is a luscious delight, a musical aperitif you can envision enjoying leisurely, listening on an unrushed afternoon in a verdant garden café with someone you love.  

It is Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” that is perhaps the most tender and moving collaboration on the album. Kurtzman’s playing is sensitive and sweeping. Admittedly, the violinist misses the gutsy bravado of a jazz master like a Grappelli, but don’t sell her short when it comes to being able to pull your emotional strings and grab you with her poignancy and tone. Pizzolla would have been pleased. Malinvenri’s supple piano solo is a treasure of sensitivity and creative engagement on a human level.

“Body and Soul” is a classic jazz standard that was made famous by tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins. Malinverni opens with a creative, slightly dissonant piano intro before Kurtzman’s moving violin uses the Coleman saxophone solo for inspiration. Pete’s piano work here is the most expressive as he sets the rhythm in stride-like accompaniment.  

Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke ( Photo credit Unknown)

Malinverni’s take on Bix Beiderbecke’s compositions caught my attention. Even though Beiderbecke was primarily known as a cornetist, all the songs included on this album were written and played by him on piano, with the exception of ‘Davenport Blues.”

 I first heard “In A Mist” from a Freddie Hubbard album Sky Dive from 1972 and always found the music to be intriguing. The music has been described as a cross between Debussy and Ellington. Malinverni’s arrangement features Kurtzman’s violin navigating the interesting changes with aplomb and some amount of bravado that the composition encourages. The music radiates a sense of Debussy-like grace and calm and these two artists are skillfully faithful to this in their playing. 

“Candlelights” is a warm, jaunty melody and a touching vehicle for Kurtzman and Malinverni to demonstrate their simpatico communicating skills. All of Bix’s music comes from the late twenties or early thirties, he died at the early age of twenty-eight, and there is a reverence to the music while still allowing for some modernizing in Malinverni’s deft arrangements.

“In the Dark,” (a song that master pianist Dick Hyman did a fabulous job with it in 2008 also finds this duo skillfully synchronizing their lines like two artists conjoined to Bix’s gorgeous melody. The most raucous tune, “Davenport Blues,” has the most predictable form and probably finds Kurtzman most pressed to adapt her classical style on this true blues song. Malinverni's jazz history allows him to immediately adjust his playing to suit the down to earth style that the tune demands. “Flashes” is the final Beiderbecke composition on the cd and has a gracious melody that the two musicians seem to demonstrate some real intuitive simpatico in their playing.

Set aside the fifty-four minutes it takes to listen through Candlelight, Love in the Time of Cholera and allow yourself the leisure to really enjoy the artistry, the joy, the love, and the precious relaxation that Kurtzman and Malinverni have offered to us all as the answer to these stressful times.

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