Music

John Pizzarelli: Double Exposure

Photo: Jimmy Katz

The delightful singer and guitarist plays pop/rock material in his jazz style, managing a couple of miracles and few real misses.


John Pizzarelli

Double Exposure

Label: Telarc
US Release Date: 2012-05-15
UK Release Date: 2012-05-14
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

John Pizzarelli is the most engaging of all jazz musicians, a charmer in concert, a warm host on a throwback radio show, and a singer who tosses off songs with a cool nonchalance that seems almost too easy. Graced with good looks and an attachment to fine suits and a swing-based rhythm feeling, Pizzarelli manages to be both youthfully funny and old-fashioned at once.

And so Double Exposure is arguably the ultimate John Pizzarelli collection. On the one hand, it cheekily uses as source material from the time of Pizzarelli’s own youth: tunes by Billy Joel, Neil Young, the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, The Allmann Brothers, even Seals and Crofts. On the other hand, Pizzarelli renders them either in tandem with cleverly-interlocking jazz tunes or in a style (swing, bossa nova, jump) that comes from his life playing jazz. “Double Exposure” suggests that Pizzarelli is presenting you in some cases with two songs fused into one—such as Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and Tom Waits’ “Drunk on the Moon” in a single, fused performance. In other cases he simple repackages a newer song in an idiosyncratically older style, creating a similar effect.

This trick, when it deeply works, it is semi-miraculous. In a many cases, the fit is not perfect, but the songs are so strong that hearing them in a throwback style is charming. And in a few cases...the whole thing seems like an experiment gone wrong.

No doubt: opinions will vary widely on this disc, depending perhaps on each listener's deference to or respect for the utter sanctity of the original recordings. But for me, this collection of potential mistakes is mostly wonderful. This is less because of the ingeniousness with which Pizzarelli has arranged these songs than because of the sheer charm with which he sells them. In short, Pizzarelli loves these songs and also deeply loves swing-style jazz—so usually he makes it all work together.

In a couple of cases, however, the pure idea of the combination is terrific. Maybe the best thing on Double Exposure is the recasting of Costello’s “Allison” as a swaying bossa nova, floating on a new set of chords and shot through with a poignant muted trumpet solo. The original song was heard by a million kids in the ‘70s and ‘80s as a straight love song when, in fact, it was a twisted tale of revenge. Here, Pizzarelli sings the lyrics clearly so you can’t miss them, yet they are rendered so gently that the irony is, if anything, greater than in the original. Brilliant.

Plenty of folks won’t tolerate any fiddling about with Beatles songs, so anointed are the originals, but Pizzarelli’s notion to marry Lee Morgan’s funky “The Sidewinder” with “I Feel Fine” is smile-worthy most certainly. The grooving backbeat hits of the jazz tune hop up the Beatles into hip toe-tapping and don’t seem forced at all. The tunes fit together so neatly that the band is able to splice elements of the instrumental tune into the midst of the Beatle lyrics. Tasty.

More organic still is the mash-up of “Lush Life” and “Drunk on the Moon”, which works both lyrically and melodically. Pizzarelli does much more than merely use the Strayhorn tune as a brief solo guitar introduction, lovely as that is. But when the Waits lyrics mentions a saxophone, sure enough Andy Fusco comes in playing the older song on tenor, referencing the great Coltrane version from his album with Johnny Hartman. Later the lyrics themselves are interpolated: “Hearts flutter and race / The moon’s on the wane / Tarts mutter their dream hopes / Romance is mush stifling those who strive / I’ll live a lush life in some small dive / I’ve hocked all my yesterdays / Don’t try and change my tune / I thought I heard a saxophone / I’m drunk on the moon / With those whose lives are lonely too.” It is seamless.

There are other performances here that work without seeming quite so clever. A string band arrangement of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” is lovely, particularly in the Aaron Weinstein fiddle solo. Billy Joel’s “Rosalinda’s Eyes” is given a Brazilian groove in a stripped-down arrangement for Pizzarelli’s guitar and voice only. “Free Man in Paris” is a dramatic reworking, but when the chorus gets grooved samba-style, it truly cooks, and the reharmonization is like a shimmering waterfall of hip.

A few tunes here seem fine but maybe obvious. Both “Ruby Baby” and “Walk Between the Raindrops” come via Donald Fagen’s wonderful Nightfly album (though “Ruby” is an old pop-rocker from an earlier era), and they get straight swing arrangement that are essentially where they started to begin with. “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” is reworked with a snappy string-swing feeling, with a cleverly written bass line for brother Martin Pizzarelli to fold into the whole thing.

What doesn’t work? Putting Miles Davis’s “So What” as the frame around Seals and Croft’s “Diamond Girl” seems forced, particularly because that kind of modal jazz is not really Pizzarelli’s thing to begin with. James Taylor’s “Traffic Jam” is remade as a Lambert, Hendricks & Ross vocalese feature along with the Joe Henderson tune, “The Kicker”. The singing and lyrics (with references to Samuel Beckett and Sartre among many other things) are terrific and feature Pizzarelli’s talented singing wife, Jessica Molasky, but all the jazz business wipes out the original tune utterly.

I’m mixed on the Pizzarelli original “Take a Lot of Pictures”, which is based on a famous line by Frank Sinatra and the introductory lick from Michael Franks’ hip double entendre tune, “Popsicle Toes”. Some odd combination. “I Can Let Go Now” is simply a brilliant song, but more interesting transformations of it have been done by Allison Krauss and by Luciana Souza. Pizzarelli’s version seems more like a pale version of the Michael McDonald original than like a smart alteration.

In the end, however, these misses are not the point. John Pizzarelli is showing folks how jazz, even in some of its older styles, shares a vocabulary with more modern popular music. And in his deft style, the two are, essentially, the same beast.

The good stuff, whenever it was first made, is just good. And there’s no reason not to have fun with it. John Pizzarelli is good at the fun stuff, again.

7

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image