This two-disc collection captures a handful of awe-inspiring guitarists performing for audiences at two supper clubs that have supported John Pisano’s Guitar Night since 1997.
John Pisano is one of those in-the-trenches guitarists who have been around forever, even though a lot of serious jazz fans have never heard his name. He put in studio and/or road time with the likes of Chico Hamilton, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, and Diana Krall. He was a founding member of Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass. Talk about getting around the proverbial block. He was also a frequent partner to Joe Pass over a 30+ year period, during which time he initiated Jazz Night at Papashon in Los Angeles, based on the need he saw for talented players to have a regular outlet. The liner notes point out that this all started at Donte’s, when guitarist Jack Marshall suggested to the owners that they try adding another headlining guitarist. That other guitarist was the fabled George Van Epps. In short order, Joe Pass and his then touring partner Herb Ellis began gigging there. John Pisano was a regular at all of those performances. When he suggested a once a week Guitar Night at Papashon, Van Epps was again the first headliner. The event is now based out of Spazio’s, yet another Van Nuys supper club with spectacular jazz guitar on the bill every Tuesday night.
The first disc opens, appropriately, with George Van Epps, accompanied by bassist Luther Hughes on a brilliant take of "I’ll Never Be the Same." The energy does not let up from that point forward. Pisano is joined by Herb Ellis and backed by bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Colin Bailey on a mesmerizing version of Ellis’ "The Blues." This is followed by the jaunty "I Want to Be Happy," by the same quartet. To call the guitar work dazzling is the height of over-statement. This is the final of the performances from Papashon.
Next up is a take on Tadd Dameron and Count Basie’s "Good Bait," with guitarists Anthony Wilson (Gerald Wilson’s son) and John Pisano trading licks with Berghofer and drummer Peter Donald supplying the foundation. "When Sunny Gets Blue," is performed solo by guitarist Ted Greene. The Greene and Wilson/Pisano performances were recorded at Rocco’s and are the last of the non-Spazio’s dates.
The September 1, 2001 date with Peter Bernstein and Anthony Wilson, initiates, at least for these recordings, Guitar Night at Spazio’s. Joined on the date by bassist Jim Hughart, their take on Earl Hines’ "Rosetta" is subdued, but well-paced. "Whisper Not" is given a splendid reading by the same three, while "My One and Only Love" features Bernstein in duet with Larry Koonse, again with Hughart on the date. The latter swings well and much of the credit for this must be given to the bassist.
The second disc opens with a June 2002 date on which guitarist Joe Diorio and bassist Dave Carpenter work out on Monk’s "Round Midnight." The following "Falling In Love With Love" is one of the standout pieces on the collection. Guitarist Barry Zweig is joined by Pisano and the rhythm of bassist Luther Hughes and drummer Dick Weller. This one swings mightily, with the guitarists trading, exchanging and sharing ideas over a first-rate rhythm team. Pisano joins Anthony Wilson for "Autumn Leaves," on which Dave Carpenter supplies bass and Tim Pleasant the drums. This is another swinger that will cause a toe to tap at 50 paces. Pat Kelly joins fellow guitarist Wilson for a mid-tempo treatment of "All Of You." Strong bass and drum support are offered by John Belzaguy and the muscular Ralph Humphreys. Frank Potenza and John Pisano are joined by bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Kendall Kays on a solid version of the Van Heusen/Mercer standard, "I Thought About You." Pat Kelly performs his own hip and swinging "Minor 6th Sense" with Pisano, Belzaguy and Humphries, and Wayne Shorter’s "Footprints" gets a superbly elastic and electric reading from fusion guitarist Scott Henderson, with Pisano on rhythm and Carpenter and Kay supplying the foundation. The collection closes with guitarist Corey Christiansen, a Senior Editor at Mel Bay Publications, and the venerable Mr. Pisano working out on a finger-snapping "Wee," on which Carpenter and Kay also play.
The final selection on the disc was recorded March 9, 2006. The lights haven’t dimmed yet on this institution, though, as Jack Tracy writes in the liners, reservations are suggested.