[23 February 2010]
John Pizzarelli’s Rockin’ in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington hearkens back to when jazz wasn’t an intimidatingly intellectual or academic medium. This breezy, mostly uptempo set reasserts jazz’s place as music that’s actually fun, too. It helps, though, that Pizzarelli draws on the catalog of the greatest songwriter of the last century, and that he is a phenomenal singer, guitarist, and all-around entertainer. The pared-down arrangements (some quartet features, a solo guitar showcase on “Just Squeeze Me”) provide contrast with the big-band tunes while maintaining the momentum. Pizzarelli also manages to keep familiar material fresh and engaging with inspired touches like transplanting the lyrics of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” onto “East St. Louis Toodle-oo” or the evolving arrangement of “In a Mellow Tone”. For the most part, though, this affectionate-and-worthy tribute accomplishes its mission simply by presenting classic songs with a minimum of fuss and playing them with consummate skill.