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Howard Alden/Bucky Pizzarelli: In a Mellow Tone

There’s more to being a legend than just living long enough; you’ve got to have the résumé and chops to back it up. Now pushing 80, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli certainly has both. An East Coast studio, club and concert stalwart for several decades, he’s played with many of the best, including Benny Goodman and Wes Montgomery. Particularly known for his abilities as a rhythm guitarist, he’s also a fine soloist. Talent must run in the family, because he’s also the father of popular guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli. Pizzarelli and fellow guitarist Howard Alden met about 12 years ago and have played together many times. Although both participated in the soundtrack to Woody Allen’s Sweet and Lowdown, a film about fictitious guitarist Emmett Ray, In a Mellow Tone is their first recording together. And while Alden is a generation younger, the two guitarists nevertheless have much in common, in that they share a love for the same kind of music and both play 7-string instruments, with an extended lower range that enables rich chord voicings and bass lines. Alden’s two guitar solos-Bix Beiderbecke’s almost impressionistic “In the Dark” and “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (performed on Sweet and Lowdown’s soundtrack)-demonstrate both his advanced familiarity with the fingerboard and sophisticated harmonic sense. But things really start to swing when Pizzarelli gets down to work. Tunes like “Tangerine,” “Three Little Words” and especially “Cherokee” cook along as each player alternates between soloing and comping with propulsive chords and bass lines. The disc’s closer is “Blues for Emmett,” a tasteful blend of lyricism and soulfulness that effectively sums up all of the recording’s best moments.

Legends finds Pizzarelli teaming up with Skitch Henderson-who, in his mid 80s, still conducts the New York Pops. The project includes a host of supporting musicians; however, guitar and violin tend to dominate, giving things a decidedly Hot Club feel, as the personnel mix and match to form ensembles of varying sizes. Most of the tunes are warhorses like “Three Little Words” (a rollicking duet with Pizzarelli and violinist Aaron Weinstein), “Liza” (beautifully arranged for several violins, it includes solos by Bucky and John Pizzarelli) and “Out of Nowhere” (with some nice piano work by Henderson). But there are also some fun novelty numbers, including a multidimensional arrangement of “Blue Bells of Scotland” and “Raggin’ the Scale,” with some bouncy guitar work by John Pizzarelli. Sure this music looks to the past, both stylistically and in terms of its material, but that’s what makes classics classics. As Walter Cronkite says in the liner notes, “Live up the past and celebrate the present.”

Originally Published