My CD library includes every album John Pizzarelli has ever recorded. I have limitless respect for his talents as a jazz guitarist and singer. Both discs of his superb Live in Birdland have maintained a place of honor in my CD changer for nearly a year. I listen to his Meets the Beatles far more often, and with far more affection, than I do the actual Fab Four. His “I Like Jersey Best” would likely top my desert island list. I’m also a sucker for anything with a bossa nova beat.
Which is a roundabout way of saying that my expectations for Pizzarelli’s Bossa Nova were enormous.
Pizzarelli’s vocal pairing with Daniel Jobim (Antonio Carlos’ grandson) on “The Girl From Ipanema” is intoxicating, and I found his bossa interpretation of James Taylor’s “Your Smilin’ Face” infectiously buoyant. The balance of the album seems, though, particularly by Pizzarelli’s impeccably high standards, merely serviceable and occasionally misguided. What, for instance, is Stephen Sondheim’s dreamily ethereal “I Remember Sky” doing in this mix?
Bossa Nova isn’t bad; Pizzarelli would be incapable of such. It’s simply nowhere near as great as my perhaps- exalted expectations demanded. Far better is Rosemary Clooney’s 2000 Brazil, where Pizzarelli provided extraordinary guitar accompaniment on 13 tracks (what he does to “Sweet Happy Life” is pure magic), and joined voices with Clooney for a terrific “One Note Samba.” They also united for a “Waters of March” that is nothing short of sensational. Together, they navigate the Jobim gem’s tricky English lyric with the skill and finesse of equally matched Olympians, fully appreciating that the song’s que sera sera message only works if delivered with delicate, dreamy detachment. Comparatively, Pizzarelli’s solo version on Bossa Nova seems disappointingly pedestrian.