Renaissance: A Journey From Classical To Jazz
Arbors ARCD 19448
Class with a capital C! An apt description for this superb album by Bucky Pizzarelli, the complete jazz guitarist, who seems to have been around forever in a musical journey which has taken him from the Swing Era to the present day encompassing studio work, rock and roll and every conceivable form of jazz setting. Although he has had no classical training, one of the many highlights is Pizzarelli’s moving interpretation of Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Concerto No.1 in D, his tribute to Andre Segovia who premiered the work in 1939. His delicate touch on the six string guitar is framed by strings and woodwinds. The rest of the album mainly consists of seven-string guitar duets with long-time friend and former pupil Ed Laub. Their musical empathy is uncanny, each having the ability to finish one another’s musical thoughts to such an extent that at times it feels like there’s only one guitar. And there is only one on the tender medley of Richard Rodgers’ It’s Easy To Remember (written with Lorenz Hart) and This Nearly Was Mine (Oscar Hammerstein II). His playing is so effortless, its simplicity makes it sound so easy. But perhaps Laub sums him up best: “Bucky is like a kid – he’s so excited about learning something new or re-learning something he hasn’t played in decades. It’s amazing to witness an 89-year-old man (at the time of the 2015 recording) demonstrating such passion as something as simple as a chord”. And we the listeners are the beneficiaries. The proof is here.
– Kevin Jones
10 Years Solo Live
Brad Mehldau’s 10 Years Solo Live album is culled from 19 live recordings made over a decade of the pianist’s European solo concerts and is divided into four thematic subsets of four sides each, Dark/Light, The Concert, Intermezzo/Rückblick, and E Minor/E Major. Within these themes the variety of five hours of piano solo is astounding. Every track on this four-CD pack is a world to its own and Mehldau expertly shows his prowess throughout. Sides 1–4 focus on this dichotomy in pairs, beginning with the dark energy of Jeff Buckley’s Dream Brother, followed by the grace of Lennon/McCartney’s Blackbird. The songs on Sides 5–8 (The Concert) come from different concerts arranged in the sequence he would play them live. They are amazingly much more than just superb. Mehldau has performed around the world at a steady pace for 25 years with his trio as well as with other collaborators and as a solo pianist building a large and loyal audience. Mostly he plays in the classiest classical venues like the Mozartsaal in Vienna and the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. He is an engaging, playful and elegant improviser and one of the admirable things about him is his restless musical curiosity. He is a terrific pianist and a conceptual improviser. There are so many favourite tracks from such a voluminous collection that it would be pointless just to name a few. However, The Concert -Get Happy was the one that gave me real insight into what and who I was listening to – the pianism of a jazz great.
– Barry O’Sullivan
Arbors ARCD 19418
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I missed this modest little gem the first time around but as an example of the best in 21st century mainstream jazz there are few better than this 2010 session led by veteran Johnny Varro, whose light swinging touch reminds me of such legendary pianists as Teddy Wilson and Billy Kyle. A consummate and elegant soloist with a flawless technique, Varro leads a quintet of the highest quality headed by a front line of Warren Vache, the best thing to happen to the cornet since Ruby Braff, and tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, to whom swinging comes as naturally as breathing. Add bassist Nicki Parrott and drummer Chuck Riggs to the mix and you have the ultimate present-day swing group. Most of the tracks are standards, chosen by Varro because of their melodic content. He wanted songs that “hadn’t been played to death”; beautiful songs which deserved to be tastefully embellished without losing the melody – and the quintet does them proud! Pride of place must go to the tender reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Once I Loved where Vache and Allen take turns in caressing the lovely Latin melody. The lightly propulsive versions of two of the finest from the Rodgers and Hart songbook, Falling in Love With Love and My Heart Stood Still, show how well these musicians love playing together, the former noted for their interplay, and as for the latter I have never heard a more satisfying treatment. But there is much to savour in a disc that sounds better each time I play it. Unreservedly recommended.
– Kevin Jones