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John Pizzarelli, Live at Birdland (Telarc)
Where is the love in jazz performance these days? I'm not talking about the sincere appreciation of this great American art form that chokes the blood from the veins and makes it little more than American chamber music or the smooth strains of instrumental white noise that gets piped out of speakers in public spaces. I'm referring to the fun and the showmanship that dares to take itself seriously and gives me a little credit, too. I want all that jazz. John Pizzarelli celebrates the 10th anniversary of the John Pizzarelli Trio with a spirited two-disc set Live at Birdland. Guitarist John along with brother Martin on bass and Ray Kennedy on piano constantly entertain and amaze with sharp musicianship and a healthy dose of cornball humor that never feels like a slick, commercial come-on. While nearly every singing instrumentalist strives to emulate the elegant sophistication of Nat King Cole, Pizzarelli fearlessly employs his goofy wit without shame. His rendition of Joseph Cosgriff's "I Like Jersey Best" is the perfect showcase of instrumental chops and comic hijinks. He appropriates a number of clever pop and jazz snatches into an extended medley to complement the song and engage the audience in a game of spot-the-riff-and-sing-along. Few jazz musicians would dare to quote Paul Simon, the Beach Boys, Billie Holliday, Lou Reed, the Police, and Lou Rawls, complete with some spot-on vocal imitation. Pizzarelli knows his way around standards like "They Can't Take That away from Me" and "The Frim Fram Sauce", and while he doesn't dumb down the music, he's definitely more interested in making sure that his audience enjoys the show. With Diana Krall playing to the serious supper crowds and Harry Connick Jr. doing his "now you see him, now you don't" appearances on Will & Grace, we can only hope Pizzarelli doesn't jump to the stuffy high road or quit working the crowds. The man's got personality and maybe that's what has been missing from jazz performers.