That proud twinkle in John Alaimo’s eye on the cover of his latest solo album does not deceive.
Called Songs for Three Seasons, the disc delivers a rich and textured display of a master mood painter on an enchanting and enriching spree. Mr. Alaimo affably invites us to share his whimsy, his nostalgia, an occasional flirtation with regret, all on a splendidly harmonic solo pianistic tour of nature’s three warmer seasons.
This generous, 18-cut gem (a follow-up to his previous solo album, Seasons Greetings) is wonderful meditative company, no matter what the time of year. But the disc’s release in early spring seems to target this Island’s special moment, when Mr. Alaimo’s reassuring touch — like the first warm breezes of April — nourish and stimulate most pleasurably.
The lead tune, Spring is Here (Rodgers and Hart), sets a relaxed yet intriguing pace — as if the maestro is walking us through the woods, past the rippling brooks and chirping robins, delicately colored in his fingerings and lush chords. A very dreamy It Might as Well be Spring (Rodgers and Hammerstein) expands into reflective harmonics and a riffed semi-tango before the full reprise and then the capricious fade-out. The plaintive and reflective Up Jumped Spring (Freddie Hubbard) smoothly slides into a joyous and delicate romp, during which the first blooms of May’s lilacs all but scent the air.
Of the six songs celebrating summer (Mr. Alaimo tips his hat with a flourish to Gershwin, Legrand and Mercer, among others), his own Vineyard Summer is the highlight. This catchy samba (John’s first solo recording of it) spins a trance right over the waves and in off the dunes and should be required listening for any first-time Menemsha sunset viewer. (I would also nominate it for the theme song of any Vineyard-oriented sitcom — not reality show — which might feature the gracious and sublime elements of Vineyard’s peak season.)
Mr. Alaimo’s six autumn selections, each carefully sketched and caressed, move nostalgia to front and center on the harmonic color palate. Early Autumn (Mercer/Burns and Herman) strides graciously, perhaps along a hiker’s Chilmark water view trail, only to meet September in the Rain (Harry Warren), when Mr. Alaimo textures his fleeting arpeggios into a soft lilt that rolls satisfyingly, never impulsively, right into Kurt Weil’s haunting and imploring September Song. By the final cut, a bluesy Autumn Nocturne (Gannon and Myrow), the listener has relished all of Mr. Alaimo’s musical tour and still is begging for more.
Of course the common theme to all these seasonal songs is love — in first bloom, in full splendor, and in disappearance — and Mr. Alaimo’s heart sings marvelously of these various loves through his music, whatever the season. Three Seasons is a rich trove of the master’s deepest affections, all turned succulently and tenderly for both his newer fans and for those more familiar with the Island’s most expressive and resilient piano virtuoso.
John Alaimo’s next CD, A Beautiful Friendship, will be released later this year with Island bassist Michael Tinus. He and Michael also have plans to put out still another trio album soon with Tauras Biskis on drums.
For those new to John Alaimo’s eclectic style and accomplishments, he was born in Boston and started playing professionally at age 13. He attended Boston University, Berklee College of Music, and the Boston Conservatory of Music, where he studied composition, arranging, and education. He worked at Boston’s World Star Productions and later moved for several years to Los Angeles, where he continued as composer, arranger, and teacher. He also met his wife Holly there.
In his words: “My initial musical inspiration was my father who was a well-known guitarist from Boston. I’ve always loved jazz but also played blues, doo-wop, rhythm and blues and Latin. These venues had a major influence on my jazz playing. I can’t tell you how many musicians have inspired me in the past and present. I’d have to say just about everybody that has anything to say musically.
“My wife Holly has been the true long-term inspiration for me. Several times when I was discouraged about the toughness of the business, Holly said, ‘You’ve got to play, John. You’re not the same if you don’t.’ ”
John Alaimo also received encouragement from the great jazz artist Hamptom Hawes. Returning to the East coast in the late 1960s, John played piano for several decades in Cambridge — primarily at the Plough and Stars and in the house band of the 1369 Jazz Club during the 80’s and 90’s — the 1369’s heyday in the Cambridge and Boston area.
“I began coming to Martha’s Vineyard in the 1970s to play at the old Sea View and moved to the Vineyard in 1995. I’ve always been thankful for the great welcome I’ve received from the wonderful musical community we have here on the Island.”
Three years ago John was invited to perform in Paris, in Grenoble, and in various towns in southern France, where he very much enjoyed collaborating with local French musicians. He was interviewed on Paris radio, and he now has many fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
The John Alaimo Trio will return to Atria’s Brick Cellar Bar in Edgartown on weekends during the upcoming season. And speaking of seasons, yes, his new CD Songs for Three Seasons is available at Aboveground Records, Craftworks, Yes, We Have No Bananas and the Dragonfly Gallery.