John Pizzarelli: Bossa Nova

Robert R. Calder

John Pizzarelli

Bossa Nova

Label: Telarc
US Release Date: 2004-04-27

The title of this new John Pizzarelli disc goes in for some wordplay. The music that appeared internationally a longer time ago than some care to think was called Bossa Nova. People being careless, the time came 'round when it was just called Bossa (don't bother about what Bossa was before it was Nova). This CD's real title should be Bossa Nova Nova. Which really means Bossa Nova anew. There's no shortage of subtlety in the music here, anyway, but in the direction rather of pop than of Pop -- "Pop" being the not-less-than-great guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, also father of the Michael who plays bass very well here.

Overall, the jazz quotient is slight, the jazz guitar quotient even slighter. The international publicity granted the Brazilian Bossa Nova a very long time ago put Stan Getz in the studio and elsewhere with Astrid Gilberto fairly early on. Their blend is not equalled here, or in fact anywhere else. Maybe only Getz's finesse allowed take-offs in such stunningly exciting solo directions without breaking the spell. Cannonball Adderley was another major musician who brought Bossa Nova right into jazz, without the bilingualism of Getz. Getz fed back into Bossa, and what we have here is that music of Antonio Carlos Jobim rather than its marriage with jazz (or his contributions to the jazz repertoire), though jazz language leavens a few instrumental interludes.

A TV commercial not so long back added to the sum of royalties which once made the crooner Andy Williams the unwitting owner of a major jazz catalogue. Rights to the bankrupt, for-years-unavailable Candid list were part of a larger financial acquisition. It's back now at last, and nobody who pined for masterpieces of Mingus, Otis Spann, or Jaki Byard will mistake this CD for jazz. Some might link it to a metrically absurd translation which had Williams singing what sounded like "music to watch girls buy", because of the accent on the last syllable (or maybe the translation was naughtier than one thought). The original melody was ruined. Nothing like that happens on this classy production.

Pizzarelli sings so softly, the music is mostly so quiet, just now and then a faint natural creak is audible from the guitar. Sprechgesang, parlando, not far off talking on a tune, Pizzarelli has a pleasant voice. Musical, tasteful, his singing's not in the Astrud Gilberto class (she did record in English). It's not individually special. He does have help on one track where a grandson of Antonio Carlos Jobim sings solo in Portuguese. Daniel Jobim also joins in the occasional "backing vocals", and veterans from close to the source include Paulinho Braga and Cesar Camargo Mariano. GrandPop Jobim is well represented as composer -- the programme includes a handful from him (three of them chestnuts), a couple of Pizzarelli originals in the genre, and American tunes by James Taylor, Sondheim, Gershwin done within a Bossa Nova genre as Bossa-rhythmed jazz.

A great deal of care has been taken with the production of this disc. Two different pianists have been engaged to play on different tracks, and on one it's just Pizzarelli's voice and his guitar. Elsewhere there's sometimes tenor saxophone (tendence Getz), and on a few titles flute. Lazy reviewers cribbing from the notes might say that some tracks feature 'strings' (meaning violin, cello, etc.). There are so few string players aboard they might even have been named. There's one nice solo accompaniment on cello. Maybe there's only a string quartet, Don Sebesky arranging with guile while being responsible for some of the musical highlights. The sort of sea of singing fiddles many jazz soloists have had to swim is not the case here.

If I go on about the quality of string-writing on a few titles, and some work with flute also organised by Don Sebesky (which reminds me of the quality of Eddie Sauter's work on Getz's neither bossa nor cloyingly with strings album Focus), that's because I suppose I might have had a sort of experience other listeners could have with this CD. It just made me aware of something. John Pizzarelli seems to have something of an audience, and if he interests people (including performers) not only in Getz but also in the range of music represented by this pleasantly widely listenable recording, he'll have revived something worth reviving. It's a nice palette that more can be done with.

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