Pizzarelli is on a roll. His past few albums have been stone-cold killers, and his most recent, Knowing You, is a collection of songs by writers he loves, with guest musicians augmenting his normal trio. It differs a bit from his recent efforts in that there’s not as much guitar as you might expect. Oh, there’s plenty to make sure you don’t forget what a great player he is. Check out “Coffee, Black.” His unison guitar-scatting is phenomenal. The solo is pure chops and swing. Then, just to make sure you know his harmonic skills haven’t diminished, his comping behind Ray Kennedy’s piano solo is very skilled. Top the song with the great lyric and vocal (and the quote from the old Maxwell House ads), and you’re good to go.
For the most part, though, the emphasis here is on John’s vocals and songs. He has that unknown something that makes a vocal just swing. “Pick Yourself Up” has been sung by hundreds. But this version is one that will stick in your head. It also has a pretty amazing guitar-scat solo. The unique choice here is the Beach Boys classic “God Only Knows.” It would take guts to take that song on in a rock situation, but to turn it into a jazz tune really takes intestinal fortitude. The nice surprise is how well it works. Pizzarelli then tackles a favorite of mine in Dave Frishberg’s “Quality Time.” John and guest vocalist Jessica Molaskey catch the whimsy for which Frishberg is so well-known, and that this song showcases. With the unison piano and guitar, on occasion it brings to mind old Nat Cole recordings. He tops the tune with a fine melodic solo.
Pizzarelli obviously has a good pedigree. But he has paid his dues, learned his stuff, and come through big-time. Here’s hoping all the hard work and great music will make his a name known in a lot more households.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.