At the beginning of her trio set last Thursday evening at the Manhattan jazz boîte known as Jazz at Kitano, Leslie Pintchik advised the capacity crowd that her performance would consist almost entirely of original compositions. For some audiences, that can be a problem. After all, most people like to hear familiar songs, and not every jazz pianist can keep an audience at rapt attention with mostly unfamiliar material. Pintchik can and did. By the end of her set, her fans would not have had it any other way.
Pintchik is a unique presence on the New York jazz scene. A charming, petite intellectual in a page-boy haircut, she had been a doctoral candidate teaching literature at Columbia University before the jazz bug bit. As a pianist, she is a cool customer and the most delicate of swingers, a trait she shares with one of her main influences, Bill Evans (the other one being Thelonious Monk). As a composer, she is underrated: her tunes are subtle, intriguing and seductive, not-so-buried treasures waiting to be recognized and discovered by other jazz artists. At Kitano, she revealed herself to be an artist ripe for rediscovery.
Her tightly integrated trio with her bassist-husband Scott Hardy and drummer Michael Sarin is rehearsed to a fare-thee-well. They executed her graceful compositions lyrically yet precisely through their twists and turns, and repeatedly proved themselves to be passionate and polished soloists. Although Pintchik is unquestionably the leader, she let Hardy count off every tune, which says a lot about their bond and trust. Like the long-married couple they are, they tend to finish each other’s thoughts—in this case, musically.
Pintchik is not out to dazzle with speed or impress with dissonance, as do too many post-bop pianists; instead, she’s out to weave a spell, and this she does as well as anyone on the scene. On this occasion, she played a mini-career retrospective, drawing from her impressive book to feature tunes from her 2016 release True North (Pinch Hard Records) as well as from five previous albums.
They began with the coolly swinging “Small Pleasures,” which she noted is “about finding a parking spot in Manhattan … although it should really be called ‘Major Victory.’” In her soloing here and later, Pintchik mined riches from the tension between her intense rhythms and her thoughtful, unruffled approach to the keys.
An early standout was “Over Easy” (“It’s not about eggs,” she helpfully noted). Another mid-tempo swinger, it featured a twisty melody and peculiarly insistent, Monk-ish time that resolved into Sarin’s relaxed 4/4 “ting-ting-a-ting-ting” with Hardy’s walking bass, which, in turn, became a stage for the leader’s boppish piano solo. Hardy’s bass solos throughout were exceptionally fluid and melodic, passionate yet delicate.
“In the Wrong Place at the Right Time”—Pintchik has the best titles—was a slow, cool blues that prominently featured some “wrong notes at the right time,” as she put it, in strict time but with artfully displaced notes, as well as some perverse-sounding seconds, intervallically speaking. Midway through the tune, Keith Sabado, a dancer, was introduced as a surprise guest soloist. Sabado, formerly with the Mark Morris Dance Company and now Pintchik’s physical therapist, performed a remarkably slinky, in-the-pocket dance turn for a couple of choruses, then slithered back to his table.
“A Simpler Time,” one of her earliest tunes was among the evening’s highlights. She described it as “an adult lullaby” inspired by a visit to Hancock Shaker Village in Massachusetts, where she was struck by the presence in one home of an adult-sized cradle, in which old and infirm adults could be rocked and soothed. Its gentle, poignant melody, refracted like light through a prism of shifting harmonies reminiscent of Evans, displayed her as a composer of emotional depth and effortless lyricism.
After that, the table was set for her “Terse Tune,” which marries short bursts of melody to “astringent” harmonies. “And it ends with a bang, not a whimper,” she promised. She said the title had been inspired by Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, who says to his mother, “You’ve been talking now for 50 years; time to stop!” Regardless, the song contained her hottest, most voluble soloing of the evening, over some intense conga-style hand drumming by Sarin.
About the set’s only one standard, “I’ve Grown Accustomed To Her Face,” she remarked, “It’s about the love that sneaks up on you—the best kind, I think.” She took her time, caressing the melody, in a striking, haunting arrangement of the great Lerner-Loewe tune.
Pintchik’s finale was a fast-paced romp she called, “You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl.” She said she overheard a man hurl that very accusation in a heated conversation while she was walking on Canal Street in Lower Manhattan. “As you might imagine,” she noted wryly, “it doesn’t end well.” The trio tore through the tune, ending with a crash, as foretold. The tune may not have ended well, but Pintchik and her trio certainly did. DB