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Bucky Pizzarelli: Swing Live

One of swing guitar’s great elder statesmen, Bucky Pizzarelli is an inordinately versatile player, capable of seamlessly moving from sideman to soloist, as these two discs clearly reveal.

Recorded in New York City last year, Swing Live is a small ensemble date featuring bassist Michael Moore, drummer Bernard Purdie, vibraphonist Peter Appleyard and clarinetist Allan Vache. Typical of such impromptu recordings, the arrangements are minimal, with the end product dependent upon the players’ skills and the engineer’s recording values. Overall, the participants turn in workmanlike efforts, but at times reach inspired levels. On “Sweet Sue,” Pizzarelli gets in a nice single-note solo, which he follows with a rhythmic chord-based chorus. And he swings hard on “Lester Leaps In,” where he contributes a particularly fluid single-note excursion. Just as you’d expect, Moore performs well, demonstrating his ability to play the right note at the right time throughout the set, while Appleyard grooves well on “Perdido,” and clarinetist Vache tosses off some nice Dixieland licks during a 12-bar blues that is erroneously listed as “Too Marvelous for Words.” Unfortunately, the overall sound leaves something to be desired in that the bass is too submerged in the mix and sometimes the guitar sounds a bit distant as well. Those flaws aside, Pizzarelli’s playing is still worth the price of admission; in this case, it’s too bad that the listener has to work to appreciate it.

In contrast, One Morning in May (the second of a two-volume series) features Pizzarelli playing 21 solos on the seven-string guitar, an expansive-sounding instrument that he has used for many years, long before its recent adoption by a number of players. Unlike the previous disc, here the sound is clear and well balanced, allowing his artistry to come across unhindered. The program features a mix of familiar numbers (“Lush Life,” “Old Folks,” “Laura,” “Someone to Watch Over Me”) and more obscure tunes. Also included are his renditions of Bix Beiderbecke’s “Candle Lights” and “In a Mist,” serious compositions that were originally written at the keyboard. Regardless of the material, Pizzarelli treats things with fluid chords, moving voices and myriad devices, demonstrating his masterful touch at every turn.

All in all, these discs offer two different views of the abilities of a player whose remarkable career includes recording with the likes of Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti and even Wes Montgomery.

Originally Published