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May 2007

Bucky Pizzarelli
5 for Freddie: Bucky’s Tribute to Freddie Green
Arbors Records

Sure, this is a small-combo session, but Bucky Pizzarelli is nevertheless in a large-ensemble frame of mind here, one big-band veteran guitarist saluting another. A longtime admirer of Green’s work with the Basie band, Pizzarelli evokes the master’s touch with requisite adjustments and economy (favoring heavy strings and three-note chords in which two notes are sometimes muted) and by placing the emphasis on unwavering, lift-producing 4/4 rhythm.

Green devotees won’t be disappointed by the tunes Pizzarelli and his bandmates have chosen to perform—and, in some cases, unearth. Five were composed by the late guitarist, including the Basie favorite “Corner Pocket” and the comparatively obscure charmers “Down for Double,” “High Tide,” “Bustin’ Suds” and “Up in the Blues.”

Obviously Pizzarelli knew the sound he was after—his guitar is placed prominently in the mix, a steady propelling force—and he’s not alone in displaying his affinity for the kind, unfussy swing that Green championed throughout his life. Billed as a “cast of characters,” the line-up includes pianist John Bunch (assuming the role of Count Basie), trumpeter Warren Vaché (“Sweets” Edison), bassist Jay Leonhart (Walter Page) and drummer Mickey Roker (Jo Jones). No one knows better than Pizzarelli that it’s not easy being Green, but he handles the assignment with assurance and affection.

The album opens, however, with a piece that isn’t associated with Green, Basie or even the swing era: “Groovin’ High,” a nod to Pizzarelli’s former bandleader, Dizzy Gillespie. From there, it’s a smooth ride through “Dreamsville” and beyond, with the rhythm section purring and Vaché’s horn casting a glinting light.

Originally published in May 2007
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