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Chris Buzzelli, who picks his friends as carefully and perceptively as he picks his seven-string American Archtop, has chosen three of the country’s most accomplished Jazz guitarists, Gene Bertoncini, Randy Johnston and Jack Wilkins, to share the ride on his second album as a leader. Each of them is on board for three numbers, with Buzzelli, pianist Russell Schmidt, bassist Jeff Halsey and drummer Roger Schupp making up a quartet on the other three.
My weightiest problem when reviewing albums like this is that I can’t tell one guitarist from another, but as everyone plays marvelously I suppose that’s of no great importance. Logic tells me that’s Buzzelli on the left channel, his sundry guests on the right, but I couldn’t swear to it under oath. No matter who’s where, however, the guitars blend handsomely together and no one sounds even a shade bemused or ill at ease. On the contrary, one could easily assume that they’re playing solely for their own amusement which may well be true, jazz record sales being what they are these days. But we would hope not, as Buzzelli and his amigos certainly deserve to be heard by many others.
The program, with two exceptions, is comprised of standards including the atypical finale, Mario Lanza’s signature song, “Be My Love,” taken at a breezy tempo that suits it quite well. The exceptions are Buzzelli’s compositions “Steppin’ in It” and “Islip in Fall,” neither of which seems the least out of place in such esteemed company. Besides “Be My Love” and “Steppin’,” Buzzelli flies solo (with the rhythm section) on Mack David / Jerry Livingston’s “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” from Disney’s Cinderella.
Buzzelli, who has taught since 1984 at Bowling Green (OH) State University and performed from time to time with such masters as Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Cal Collins, Mike Stern, Tal Farlow, Mark Elf, Frank Vignola and others, is an adaptable player with excellent chops and a lively imagination. What’s more, he knows how to pick his friends.