Packing a Pleasing Punch

John Pizzarelli

At the Lobero Theatre, Thursday, April 6.

Reviewed by Stanley Naftaly

John Pizzarelli lit up the Lobero Theatre and everyone in it Thursday evening by channeling Nat Cole and Oscar Moore, while also establishing his own group in the continuum of tasty, swing-based, jazz guitar quartets led by Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis, and his own father, the legendary Bucky Pizzarelli. The evening began on a warm note when the audience, unbidden, burst into “Happy Birthday” — it was Pizzarelli’s 46th — as he came onstage. Then the quartet — the leader’s guitar and vocals is backed by Larry Fuller on piano, his brother Martin on bass, and Tony Tedesco on drums — launched into “Coffee, Black” from their current album, Knowing You. Pizzarelli’s guitar is nimble, smooth, and clean, but Fuller immediately showed what he’s about, too. His solos are sprightly, lilting, accented romps and his romping behind Pizzarelli adds to the musicality of the moment. At one point, the guitarist played a note with a meaningful glance at Fuller and the pianist instantly responded by echoing it, twisted to the point of just being recognizable; both clearly enjoyed the exercise. Martin Pizzarelli is an excellent bassist who always plays the right notes at the right time. He and drummer Tedesco, an understated master of sticks and brushes, come close to being the ideal rhythm section; they produce a solid and complementary floor of time and rhythm that propels the ensemble.

A musical highlight of the evening was the band’s rendition of Jimmy McHugh’s love song, “Say It, Over and Over Again.” The song got a superb instrumental treatment by John Coltrane many years ago on his landmark album, Ballads, and this was a beautiful, open, vocal version that laid bare the lovely, simply phrased lyric against the beguiling melody. Pizzarelli tipped his musical hat to several of the greats who came before him. He honored The Nat “King” Cole trio with guitarist Oscar Moore with “Frim Fram Sauce,” and “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and invoked the sonic image of Wes Montgomery by the use of Montgomery’s trademark octaves and thumb picking. Pizzarelli played, “I Thought About You,” for his solo encore to the evening, and summoned Joe Pass by playing a separate bass line along with the melody and harmony.

Pizzarelli made the evening a delight by his affable manner and expert way with stories and anecdotes from his life. He gave a terrific show; his voice is maturing and gaining strength and definition, and the warmth of his spirit enchanted everyone present.

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