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John Pizzarelli: Rockin' in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington

C. Michael Bailey By

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John Pizzarelli is a walking, talking embarrassment of riches. He has a great pedigree, as his father, Bucky Pizzarelli), was a prodigious guitar talent (on a seven-string guitar, no less) with a voice like Chet Baker should have had. It is all this charm that Pizzarelli freely shares with us lesser mortals. Rockin' in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington is a thematic collection picking up where his 2006 collection, Dear Mr. Sinatra (Telarc), left off. What more can be done with Duke Ellington that has not been done before? Well, quite a lot it turns out.

What sets Pizzarelli's Ellington apart from the rest (that is, in addition to his infectious, happy singing) are the arrangements. An artistic discipline unto itself, jazz arrangement often provides the crux upon which a song's success or failure rests. Rockin' in Rhythm sports two of the finest in the business, with the date leader working on the quartet pieces and Don Sebesky arranging the Swing Seven Horns on seven of the 12 compositions held within.

Sebesky's genius is exercised in spades on the opening of the disc. "In a Mellow Tone" features tart horn backing to Pizzarelli's uncommonly sweet vocals. Pizzarelli provides an equally tart guitar solo doubled expertly with the guitarist's voice. "East St. Louis Toodle-Do" is overlaid with a sung "I Don't Get Around Much Anymore," with the two tunes attached firmly at the bridge. The effect is startling. Gerald Wilson's arrangement of "Perdido" is given lyrics by Pizzarelli's wife, Jessica Molaskey, who shares vocal duties with Kurt Elling.

Other guests include tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and violinist Aaron Weinstein playing Ben Webster and Ray Nance on "C Jam Blues." Pizzarelli takes Ellington for a solo guitar spin on "Just Squeeze Me," giving his father a loving nod in the bargain. Speaking of Bucky, he provides the solo for "Satin Doll." Mainstream jazz is a demanding mistress and Pizzarelli manages her with grace and wit. This recording is an accomplishment of the most rarefied order.


Track Listing: In a Mellow Tone; East St. Louis Toodle-oo/ Don't Get Around Much Anymore; Satin Doll; C Jam Blues; In My Solitude; Just Squeeze Me; Perdido; All Too Soon; I'm Beginning to See the Light; Love Scene; I Got it Bad and That Ain't Good; Cottontail/ Rockin' in Rhythm.

Personnel: John Pizzarelli: vocals, guitar; Jessica Molaskey, Kurt Elling: vocals; Bucky Pizzarelli: acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Aaron Weinstein: violin; Andy Fusco: clarinet, alto saxophone; Kenny Berger: bass clarinet, baritone saxophone; Harry Allen: tenor saxophone; Tony Kadleck: trumpet; John Mosca: trombone, alto horn; Larry Fuller: piano; Martin Pizzarelli: double bass; Tony Tedesco: drums.

Title: Rockin' in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Telarc Records

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