The acoustic guitar of Bucky Pizzarelli is not that of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, nor that of John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, and Lenny Breau. It is the acoustic archtop guitar of little-known early jazzers such as Dick McDonough, Eddie Lang, Carl Kress, and George Van Eps. On this beautiful session, not only is there no amp "" there isn't even a pickup. There's just Bucky, his custom Benedetto seven-string (with an assuredly astronomical price tag), and a microphone. Listening to this CD is like sitting in the cabin of a Gulfstream jet or the passenger seat of a Rolls-Royce. The sound is luxurious. There are twenty tracks in all, but most don't exceed the three-minute mark. Brevity only heightens their impact.
The five numbers composed by Carl Kress are standouts, and ought to help revive interest in this often overlooked figure. Kress's "Love Song" is easily my favorite track, and his "Sutton Mutton (Taking it on the Lamb)" swings hard, sounding like a slower version of "Cherokee." Kress and his archtop-playing colleagues were clearly influenced by classical music: "Afterthoughts," a suite by Kress in three parts, sounds like something Ravel could have written, and the one track by Eddie Lang, "April Kisses," sounds like a jazz-inflected baroque minuet.
George Van Eps's "Squattin' at the Grotto," Django Reinhardt's magnificent "Tears," and four Pizarelli originals are among the other highlights. The timbral range of the seven-string becomes fully apparent during Ellington's "Come Sunday," and big, piano-like chords ring through "End of a Love Affair." While I'm no purist when it comes to these things, I'm pretty sure I hear some punch-in edits during "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," and also during "Squattin' at the Grotto" and "Please."
A better solo jazz guitar record would be hard to find. But more specifically, a record that brings to life the often neglected archtop guitar music of the 30s is a genuine treasure. Bucky Pizzarelli is doing much to keep this music alive, another significant example being his rhythm guitar work behind Howard Alden on the soundtrack to Woody Allen's latest film, "Sweet and Lowdown."