The John Pizzarelli Trio has gone through a number of concept albums in its ten years of existence. But for the celebration of its decade of entertaining audiences, not only with uplifting music but also with anything-goes chat, Telarc has documented the occasion appropriately with Live At Birdland.
Rather than creating a CD that pays tribute to the Beatles or teams Pizzarelli with a jazz legend like George Shearing, Live At Birdland
instead gives listeners the experience of enjoying the John Pizzarelli Trio in concert. For sure, the trio’s performances consist as much of audience interaction as they do of feel-good but technically challenging music.
The two-CD set that comprises Live At Birdland
was recorded over a four-night gig at the famous jazz club, and obviously the highlights were selected from the abundance of material that must have been available. Telarc chose to encapsulate the trio’s performances on each disk as if they were a single performance, complete with introduction, interaction with the selected members of the audience, lead-ins to the songs, solo interpretations and the rapid-fire voice/guitar unison choruses that Pizzarelli is known for. Son of one of the leading practitioners of the seven-string guitar, Bucky Pizzarelli, John, even though he started out playing in public with Bucky and Zoot Sims, has developed a style, and a following, all his own. Always keeping in mind that audiences paid hard-earned money to hear his trio perform, John Pizzarelli makes sure that they go home feeling as if they have gotten their money’s work. And more.
Even if you haven’t had the opportunity to enjoy one of the trio’s live performances, Live At Birdland
is expansive enough to give more than a sense of how they go. After an attention-grabbing opening number, in this case "Just You, Just Me" on which Pizzarelli sings along with his own guitar, the trio settles down into "The Frim Fram Sauce," made famous by Nat Cole. However, it’s the spur-of-the-moment conversations with the audience, such as the introduction to "Rhode Island" (which singles out "Emily" from Rhode Island) that audiences remember as well.... and which characterize the trio. And then the song itself evokes laughter as Pizzarelli notes, "Oh, whiskey comes from old Kentucky./Ain’t the country lucky?/New Jersey gives us glue.... /Pencils come from Pennsylvania/Vests from Vest Virginia/Tents from Tentassee./Ah, they know mink/Where they grow Mink in Wyomink./A camp chair in New Hampchair/Yeah, that’s for me./Ah, minnows comes from Minnowsota./Coats from Dacoata./So why should you be blue?/For you, you come from Rhode Island/Little old Rhode Island is famous for you."
Surprisingly, but perhaps not when you consider that the timbre of their voices is similar, Pizzarelli pays tribute to James Taylor with "Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" and "Mean Old Man." Still, the ability of the trio’s music to reach its audience is the important characteristic of all the songs they choose to play.
On the second CD, Grover Kemble joins Pizzarelli on two songs, "Headed Out To Vera’s" and "My Castle’s Rockin’," and of course Pizzarelli introduces Kemble with a story, much as he did by describing pianist Ray Kennedy’s adventure in playing George Gershwin’s piano at the Library Of Congress. Kemble’s and Pizzarelli’s familiarity with each other’s music leads into a energetic and bluesy give-and-take on both songs, "Headed Out To Vera’s" making Vera a vivid character by the end of the song as they associate her personality with her cooking.
Starting out inauspiciously as an offshoot of Pizzarelli’s work with his father, and as brother Martin joined him on bass, the John Pizzarelli Trio has established itself as one that, even as it incorporates some older standards and a swinging style, creates timeless experiences wherever it performs. And now Live At Birdland