John Pizzarelli's trio with pianist Ray Kennedy and brother-bassist Martin Pizzarelli is one of the most swinging, entertaining live acts in jazz. That's what made 2002's Live at Birdland such a pleasure. The earlier Kisses in the Rain is also hard to beat for its drumless, Cole-inspired fire and jocular mood. Pizzarelli is at his best when giving the Songbook a minimalist spin-having Tony Tedesco play brushes on a book, for instance, throughout 2000's Let There Be Love. But on last year's Bossa Nova, Pizzarelli seemed out of his element, with his vocal limitations exposed and his personality constrained.
Knowing You is a welcome return to form, but with a full band: the trio regulars plus Tedesco on drums and guests John's father Bucky on rhythm guitar, Harry Allen on tenor, Ken Peplowski on clarinet, and Tony Monte, Larry Goldings and Cesar Camargo Mariano switching off at the piano (Goldings plays organ as well). Pizzarelli is at his best on snappy show tunes like "Coffee, Black" and "Pick Yourself Up," and the Rat Pack classic "Ain't That a Kick in the Head?" Back-to-back numbers by Dave Frishberg, "Quality Time" and "Eastwood Lane," are also strong; the first, a cabaret-style send-up of modern married life, finds Pizzarelli matching wits with his wife, singer Jessica Molaskey. When Pizzarelli's singing takes the spotlight (Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows," "How Long Has This Been Going On?"), the results can seem inconsequential. But elsewhere, his ahead-of-the-beat, scat-and-pick solos sound as tangy as ever.