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John Pizzarelli and Tessa Souter: Classical Mashups

C. Michael Bailey By

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The improvisatory nature of jazz provides a myriad of ways to enhance and tweak both the arrangement and performance of the music's canon. One approach being tried is the interpolation of one harmonically or rhythmically related song into another. Guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli and vocalist Tessa Souter have produced just such projects in their recordingsDouble Exposure and Beyond the Blue. This is intelligent and compelling music making.

John Pizzarelli

Double Exposure

Telarc Records

2012

John Pizzarelli's most recent recordings, Dear Mr. Sinatra (Telarc, 2006), With A Song In My Heart (Telarc, 2008) and Rockin' In Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington (Telarc, 2006) all paid homage to artists and the art of singing. These are excellent and safe recordings geared toward satisfying the broadest cross-section of listeners. Double Exposure is something else altogether. Using a stellar band with spanking fresh arrangements, Pizzarelli spins his own gold from a smart idea.

On Double Exposure, Pizzarelli couples the old and new, borrowed and blue over 13 selections in a way that is nothing short of clever invention. He plays creative double-duty by choosing modern pop songs and mashing them with jazz classics. For instance, the disc opener is the Beatles' "I Feel Fine" deftly mixed with Lee Morgan's "Side Winder." He opens with the Beatles' piece, switching to "Sidewinder" in the interior, allowing it to bubble up within "I Feel Fine" and coming back with the Beatles on the back side. "Sidewinder" sets the rhythmic pace of the piece, and the Beatles the vocal road. The solos are all over the "Sidewinder" changes. Pianist Larry Fuller gives a hard bop masters' class in his spotlight, while Pizzarelli doubles his voice over his solo, giving it depth and swagger.

Into Neil Young's "Harvest Moon" Pizzarelli weaves Fats Waller's "Shine on Harvest Moon." And, while it is a predictable pairing, it is nevertheless smart arranging, using Waller's melody as an almost leitmotif. The most creative coupling is the parsing together of the Allman Brothers Band's "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" and Wes Montgomery's "Four on Six." Pizzarelli alternates the two songs while backing solos with the Montgomery changes. The effect is impressive. The disc closes with Pizzarelli's cover of Seals and Croft's "Diamond Girl," which quotes Miles Davis' "So What" at the appropriate places. While these musical mashups stop short of inducing vertigo, they do warrant a certain appreciation for their witty genius.

Tessa Souter

Beyond the Blue

Motema Records

2012

Vocalist Tessa Souter does qualitatively on her release Beyond the Blue what John Pizzarelli did on his Double Exposure, except she uses European classical music from the late Romantic period as her jumping off point. Where Pizzarelli's offering is sprite and contemporary, Souter's is all classical elegance and grace. The opening "Prelude to the Sun" is an original set of lyrics of Souter's adapted to the second movement of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.

Arranged by vibraphonist Joe Locke and propelled by pianist Steve Kuhn's supple and sensitive touch, "Prelude to the Sun" sets both the tone and establishes a focal point for the recording. Souter's lyrics of renewal meld with the music that Richard Wagner called "the apotheosis of dance." Souter does the same with Larry Clinton's lyrics and adaptation of Claude Debussy's "Reverie." Kuhn gives the piece a bouncy feel that is scooped up by tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm and thrown into a 1950s Blue Note blowing vibe.

There are three well-known mashups in attendance in Souter's recital: Peter de Rose and Bert Shefter's adaptation of Maurice Ravel's "Pavane pour une infante défunte," Robert Wright and George Forrest's "Baubles, Bangles and Beads" adaptation of Alexander Borodin's String Quartet in D's second movement and Clinton's adaptation of Debussy. These chestnuts are played with a gentle swing that allows all instruments to shine. Souter's adaptation of Borodin's "Polovetsian Dances" for "Prince Igor" features the multi- talented Gary Versace playing a subdued accordion capturing a certain Slavic charm from the piece. Souter's recital is music conceived and performed at a high level. There is much to be gained in her approach.

Tracks and Personnel

Double Exposure

Tracks: I Feel Fine; Harvest Moon; Traffic Jam; Ruby Baby; Alison; Rosalinda's Eyes; Drunk On The Moon; Walk Between The Raindrops; Free Man In Paris; Take A Lot Of Pictures; I Can Let Go Now; Diamond Girl.

Personnel: John Pizzarelli: vocals, guitar; Larry Fuller: keyboards; Martin Pizzarelli: bass; Tony Tedesco: drummer; Larry Goldings: organ; Horn Section arranged by Don Sebesky including: Tony Kadleck: trumpet, flugelhorn; John Mosca: trombone, euphonium; Kenny Berger: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Andy Fusco: alto and tenor saxophone and clarinet.

Beyond the Blue

Tracks: Prelude to the Sun (Beethoven: Symphony No.7, 2nd Movement); Beyond the Blue (Chopin: Prelude in E minor, Opus 28, No.4); The Lamp is Low (Ravel: Pavane); Chiaroscuro (Tomaso Albinoni: Adagio in G minor); Dance with Me (Borodin: Polovetsian Dances Noa's Dream (Schubert: Serenade); En Aranjuez Con Tu Amor (Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez); My Reverie (Debussy: Reverie); Sunrise (Brahms: Symphony No.3, 3rd Movement); Baubles, Bangles and Beads (Borodin: String Quartet in D, No.2, 2nd Movement); The Darkness of Your Eyes (Faure: Pavane); Brand New Day (Faure: Elegy).

Personnel: Tessa Souter: vocal; Steve Kuhn: piano; David Finck: bass; Billy Drummond: drums; Joe Locke: vibraphone; Joel Frahm: tenor sax; Gary Versace: accordion.

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