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John Pizzarelli: Rockin' in Rhythm

Woodrow Wilkins By

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He's the captain of cool. It seems no matter which songs he performs, guitarist and vocalist John Pizzarelli always delivers a certain amount of dashing and debonair. Rockin' in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington is no exception.

Items repeatedly culled from the American Songbook can become trite. But Pizzarelli has a knack for making the old seem new, fresh, and invigorating. He was very young when Ellington died in 1974, but his father, Bucky Pizzarelli, taught him much about one of the jazz world's most revered composers and band leaders. For this collection, Pizzarelli calls upon his regular accompanists drummer Tony Tedesco, pianist Larry Fuller and bassist/brother Martin Pizzarelli. along with a horn section on some tracks and special guests including vocalist Kurt Elling.

While Pizzarelli sings "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," the band plays the melody to "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo." It's a clever arrangement that features Tony Kadleck on muted trumpet, answering the lyrics with fills between lines as Fuller solos over the same background. In the liner notes, Pizzarelli gives a nod to Steely Dan on his cover of "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," the only non- vocal song the group ever recorded.

Ellington's piano can almost be heard as Pizzarelli sings "Satin Doll." The arrangement is straightforward, but the coolness of his voice helps distinguish this track, with Bucky Pizzarelli soloing. On the next pass, Tedesco answers the vocalist's calls.

Pizzarelli's wife, Jessica Molaskey composed lyrics for "Perdido," on which she and Elling sing as the bouncing bass line starts the piece, followed by Pizzarelli and Elling trading leads. At different times the voices are in unison or in harmony, à la The Manhattan Transfer meets the Andrew Sisters. They break off into all combinations of pairs, sometimes with Pizzarelli and Molaskey responding to Elling.

Pizzarelli has worked with many jazz icons over the course of his career. Among them are the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Buddy DeFranco and Natalie Cole. Nat "King" Cole is recognized as Pizzarelli's hero, but a look at his discography confirms that he holds others in high regard as well, including James Taylor Quartet and Frank Sinatra and, in the words of Stevie Wonder, "The king of all, Sir Duke."

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: guitar, vocals; Martin Pizzarelli: double bass; Tony Tedesco: drums; Larry Fuller: piano; Tony Kadleck: trumpet; John Mosca: trombone and E-flat alto horn; Andy Fusco: alto sax and clarinet; Kenny Berger: baritone and bass clarinet; Harry Allen: tenor sax (4, 11); Kurt Elling: vocals (7); Jessica Molaskey: vocals (7); Bucky Pizzarelli: electric and acoustic rhythm guitar (3, 8, 11); Aaron Weinstein: violin (2, 4, 5).

Title: Rockin' in Rhythm | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Telarc Records


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