Only two things are required to enjoy this recording: a love of beautiful compositions, and an affection for inspired playing. If you are a fan of Pat Metheny
or John Pizzarelli
, "Better Days Ahead" will be rewarding in ways not accessible to a more casual or less informed listener. On the other hand, if you have spent an evening listening to classical, and especially, to Spanish guitar, or if you think you do not like jazz, you owe it to yourself to listen to this superb recording.
The story behind the album's production is yet another dreadful tale from the pandemicsuch beauty from so much ugliness. Pizzarelli tells the story behind this recording so well in the trailer that it bears some attention: it was at once a tribute, a self-affirmation, therapy, and a memorial. His father, Bucky Pizzarelli
, died from Covid soon after the start of the pandemic. Within a week, his mother had passed as well. They had been together 60 years. It is just difficult to imagine the pain Pizzarelli endured. Why Pizzarelli turned to the music of Pat Metheny at that fraught moment only he can really say. Certainly, many of us turned to memories of objects, people and thoughts well into the past to sustain us. Pizzarelli, in retreat in upstate New York, went back to the work of Metheny, which he had admired since he had taken up the guitar.
And small wonder. "Better Days Ahead" could not be more different from Metheny's 1989 version: it is intensely melodic rather than rhythmic, although which you might prefer is a matter of taste. It says something about both Metheny's compositional genius as well as about Pizzarelli's harmonic sensibilities. They may both end abruptly on the same chord, but the path Pizzarelli and Metheny choose to get there makes all the difference in the world. The same with "James," Metheny's tribute to James Taylor
. Pizzarelli admits to having wrestled with it some, but the result is striking. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine that hard-core fans of Metheny and Lyle Mays
are going to feel comfortable with Pizzarelli's version of "It's Only Talk." The original strikes a different note entirely, and for many people, has strong emotional associations. You simply have to approach this recording with an open mind and open ears .
As a side note, the cover art, by Jessica Molaskey
, is both arresting and singularly appropriate too. Is this recording a thoughtful self-reflection ? Ask not for whom the bell tolls, and so forth? You decide.
Better Days Ahead; Spring Ain't Here ; April Wind/Phase Dance; September Fifteenth; James; Antonia; (It's Just) Talk; Letter From Home; If I Could ; Last Train Home; From This Place; The Bat; Farmer's Trust.