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John Pizzarelli: Midnight McCartney

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The same week that the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” hit No. 1 in Billboard in April 1964, Ella Fitzgerald recorded her version. Lennon and McCartney compositions have remained a vital part of the vocal-jazz repertoire ever since. But you’d be hard pressed to name many, if any, jazz versions of post-Beatles McCartney tunes. Sir Paul himself decided it was time to rectify that. McCartney called up John Pizzarelli, whom he met during the 2010 sessions for Kisses on the Bottom, the rock icon’s estimable collection of mostly standards, and not only suggested the idea but even provided the title. Pizzarelli, who had crafted an album-length Beatles’ tribute back in 1996, jumped at the invitation.

While McCartney’s solo work will likely never reach the iconic status of his collaborations with Lennon, his songbook is not only richly multihued but prime for reinterpretation, as Pizzarelli ably demonstrates. With wife Jessica Molaskey as co-producer (she also provides vocal backup) and brother Martin on bass, he rounds out the core rhythm section with pianists Larry Goldings and sharp up-and-comer Konrad Paszkudzki.

Though the disc’s 13 tracks include cashmere readings of “Silly Love Songs,” “My Love,” “No More Lonely Nights,” “Warm and Beautiful,” “Some People Never Know” and “Junk” (featuring John’s father, Bucky Pizzarelli, on rhythm guitar, and saxophonist Harry Allen), the set’s not all midnight lace. Indeed, lovely as everything wrapped in Pizzarelli’s trademark silken lilt is, the more adventurous selections are more interesting. Among them: a spirited “Heart of the Country”; a breezy, midtempo “Coming Up,” featuring an excellent vocal pairing with Michael McDonald; a bluesy, Wes-worthy, horns-embellished instrumental take on “Hi, Hi, Hi”; a dazzling “Let ‘Em In” driven by Martin’s Ray Brown-inspired bass figure; and, as a bonus, a cleverly samba-ized “Wonderful Christmastime.”

Originally Published