As John Pizzarelli albums go, Salutes Johnny Mercer seems a decidedly low-key endeavor, released on his own, small label with little fanfare. And yet it delivers in spades everything one expects from the perennially affable guitarist and vocalist: intense musicality presented with genuine, aw-shucks humility, peppered with clever touches and a dash of goofiness. Meanwhile Pizzarelli, now in his mid-50s, remains the Dorian Gray of jazz, his sound and sensibility preternaturally boyish, joyously championing an art he was, quite literally, born into.
Johnny Mercer was tremendously prolific as a songwriter. Still, Pizzarelli manages to squeeze a remarkably panoptic homage into 65 minutes, covering 26 Mercer tunes, familiar and obscure, from all stages of his career. Recorded live at Birdland last summer, the album features Pizzarelli in the company of his Swing Seven, anchored by his bassist brother Martin and rising-star pianist Konrad Paszkudzki.
Never, whether breezing through the peppy “I Got Out of Bed on the Right Side,” playfully imagining how “I’m Old Fashioned” might be interpreted by Paul McCartney or tracing the forlorn ache of “Empty Tables,” Mercer’s final composition, do Pizzarelli and company falter. Equal kudos are due a member of the ensemble who never appears onstage, principal arranger Don Sebesky, a wellspring of ingenuity.