Buddy DeFranco: Cookin’ the Books

If Mort Weiss at 69 is extraordinary, Buddy DeFranco at 81 is amazing. On Cookin’ the Books (Arbors) he doesn’t just play as well as somebody decades younger, he truly plays better than most. Known in the 1940s as “the Charlie Parker of the clarinet” for introducing the instrument to bebop with his phenomenal technique, ear and imagination, DeFranco continues to dazzle with those same attributes. Indeed, on “What Is This Thing Called Love ?” and “Scrapple From the Apple” he sounds every bit like Charlie Parker. With the John Pizzarelli Trio (John on guitar, brother Martin on bass, Ray Kennedy on piano) and drummer Butch Miles as colleagues, the ageless clarinetist sails through a repertoire of medium and medium up standards with youthful aplomb. The others are appropriate company, setting up an irresistible sense of swing and offering first-class solos themselves. Kennedy is especially impressive for his ability to find a strong rhythmic groove and place every note in its perfect spot. John Pizzarelli sings on “Prisoner of Love” and “What Is This Thing Called Love ?” but as nicely as he does, his scat in unison with his breakneck guitar solo on the title tune may be his most striking vocal offering.