The second liner note included with this CD refers to this recording as, in a sense, “background music”—which is daft. It’s quiet, but far from being background music—far less routine!—it asks to be listened to and repays increased attention with more and more genuine surprises. You may recognize the title of the tune, but even on a third listen you’re unlikely to have any advance idea of what you’re going to hear done with it: nothing wild, but nothing hackneyed, either.
The senior Pizzarelli provides the harmonic depth, Vignola the melodic lines on acoustic guitar, with a pedigree possibly part-Italian, but certainly with some debt to Les Paul. That now nonagenarian maestro gets the dedication of the set, and quite rightly too. In recent years I’ve snapped up some European cheapo CDs of Mr. Paul recorded in 1950 or earlier, and relished his transitional performances, on which the pre-electric style of Django Reinhardt was translated to electric guitar. (Reinhardt, being a genius, sounded a shade less of his old self when he himself switched to electric guitar.) He’d fairly early on learned a lot from the very innovative if not necessarily always very jazzy playing of the tragically short-lived Eddie Lang, real name Salvatore Massaro and a major agent of the Italian input into jazz. Nick Vignola’s distinct individual melodic conception does bring several of these earlier stylists to mind. He’s not trying to be different, he’s so good and so involved he just is different. His linear work leads, and stays at the front most of the time; once or twice retiring to open up space for the great Pizzarelli, the chordal master, to solo with Vignola’s gently pulsing accompaniment.
At other times Pizzarelli joins him on the front line, while also continuing the work of back-up. There’s nothing indeed background about the harmonic development generated by self-accompanying duetting, which raises the music even above the very high level maintained throughout.
On other titles, when not so forward as Vignola, Pizzarelli is always there with the harmonic coloring and real substance which every item needs. At times he supplies just the very few notes which underline and support the soloist, and it’s always obvious that he very much indeed likes what Vignola is doing. Now and then his own playing gives the underlining equivalent of a nod from the stage to the audience: just listen to this.
The notes do confirm that, having played together these men wanted to record together, and to do so for Joel Dorn, whose own contribution here is a note on his history with Italian food. Call it antipasti.
The repertoire here looks in general less good than it sounds, because it’s unlikely to be viewed by many people who think there are still fresh things to be done with “Deep Purple” or “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, for instance. Think of staff canteen spaghetti and the quality of Italian food Joel Dorn drools over (happily drily!) in his menu note.
There’s challenge—and a loving sort of joke lies in finding real inspiration and the depth of original melody in tunes once new and fresh and fairly distinguished. Just because Pappy liked these tunes it don’t mean there ain’t more to them than he mostly heard. The two maestri do most of all with the title track, but “Sleepy Time Down South” emerges shining new as a guitar duet, like a Louis Armstrong trumpet solo from the soup-and-pudding of his by-no-means-always-disagreeable band performances of the song with vocal: it’s just something else. To have caught the perfect simplicity of “P.S., I Love You” was a splendid feat of hearing. John Lennon would be amazed and I hope somebody tells Paul McCartney what has been discovered in the almost schoolboy love song they recorded 45 years ago. And I hope he tells a lot of people who go on to buy this revelation. “Golden Earrings”? Ringing golden in the ears.