Sporting a new beard, wielding a seven-string custom guitar, and wearing a flashy pinstripe suit that he rather self-consciously referred to as left over from a production of Guys and Dolls, John Pizzarelli cut quite a figure on the Lobero Theatre stage on Thursday, March 23. Over the course of two substantial sets Pizzarelli and his band — Konrad Paszkudzki, piano; Mike Karn, bass; Kevin Kanner, drums — played sophisticated jazz that mostly confirmed that city slicker image, but in a good way. At other moments, however, the group went far beyond these expectations, especially when it came time for Pizzarelli to celebrate an intense recent creative partnership.
In the first set, the group wound through such standards as “Polkadots and Moonbeams” in labyrinthine improvisations that swung without strain. Pizzarelli is a raconteur as well as a singer and a guitarist, and his longest story of the night served as an introduction to the second set, when he played four consecutive numbers written by Paul McCartney. Pizzarelli’s Midnight McCartney, an album that covers post-Beatles McCartney songs, was recorded at the suggestion of Sir Paul himself, and Pizzarelli is justifiably proud, not only of the ex-Beatle’s approval, but also of the great chemistry he has with this particular music. From there, the show went off in an Ellington direction, highlighted by a crisp, stylish take on “Satin Doll.” Two warm standing ovations were well earned by these Manhattan night birds.