John Pizzarelli, “Double Exposure” (Telarc); Jesse Davis Quintet, “Live at Smalls” (Smalls Live)
Here are my 6/13 and 6/6 WDCB rvws of singer-guitarist Pizzarelli’s car wreck of a concept album and the first major album in years by the wonderful alto saxophonist Davis:
Hi, I’m Lloyd Sachs with a two-minute album review. There are two reasons why I couldn’t not review singer-guitarist John Pizzarelli’s latest release, Double Exposure. The first reason is that my ongoing coverage of jazz versions of Allman Brothers songs, which began recently with Joel Harrison’s “Whipping Post,” requires me to comment on Pizzarelli’s treatment of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.”
The second, more compelling reason I couldn’t not review Double Exposure is that an album attains the multiple car collision status this one does only once in a blue moon – or once in a “Harvest Moon,” to cite the Neil Young song Pizzarelli also includes on this collection of his pop favorites.
Any doubt whether I wanted to devote valuable air time to Double Exposure went away when I heard Seals and Crofts’ innocuous “Diamond Girl” morph into – oh my G-d, could it be, is he really doing this? – Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” Really and truly, my jaw dropped. It was like being forced to drink a Glenlivet and Slushy cocktail.
Pizzarrelli’s concept here is to mash up jazz standards with pop hits he grew up with. Not all of his double exposures are terrible. Tom Waits’ “Drunk on the Moon” and Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” actually add up to an evocative barroom ballad. James Taylor’s “Traffic Jam” and Joe Henderson’s “The Kicker” fight to a draw, but Jessica Molaskey, Pizzarrelli’s wife and vocalese partner, scores a point for mentioning Samuel Beckett in her lyrics for “The Kicker.” But the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” and Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder”? Yikes.
When Pizzarelli takes on his pop faves straight on, his frequent solution is to Brazilianize them, which in the case of Elvis Costello’s “Alison” is, how shall I say, just plain stupid. We also get Joni Mitchell’s “Free Man in Paris,” which if Pizzarrelli was really bold he would have sung as “Free Woman in Paris.” He has such a cream puff of a voice, he should never sing with horns, as much as he may love Count Basie. And as for “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” if you’re still curious, don’t be. Its Wes Montgomery touches don’t make it … memorable. With a review of John Pizarelli’s Double Exposure, I’m Lloyd Sachs. Follow me on Twitter @sachsville.
Hi I’m Lloyd Sachs with a two-minute album review. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could script the careers of artists we admire? If we had scripted alto saxophonist’s Jesse Davis’ career, we would have had him build on the impressive series of albums he released on Concord in the ’90s by continuing to record regularly and become a star along the lines of Joe Lovano or Kenny Garrett. But Davis has kept a disappointingly low profile, with few albums to speak of since his days with Concord.
All of which makes the release of his new album, Live at Smalls, such a welcome event. Of all the altoists of his generation who have worn the Charlie Parker influence, the 46-year-old Davis may be the most special. He has a meaty sound on alto, a ton of presence and a pungent blues sensibility that goes beyond standard bop phrasing, and also the traditional sound of other New Orleans natives.
Recorded at the popular Greenwich Village club, Live at Smalls takes a no frills approach. Turn on the mikes, cue the band and roll tape, or whatever they roll these days. As a result, you get unusually long takes on two of the songs, including 20 minutes worth of the standard, “I’ll Close My Eyes.” You also get more tag-team-style soloing than you might like. But the chance to hear Davis at full sail is worth putting up with any excess. On a medley of originals, he shows off his blues-gospel feel, hooking up with trumpeter Ryan Kisor for some bristling harmonies. On “Body and Soul,” Davis really digs in, cutting across bassist Peter Washington’s magnetic lines to charismatic effect.
Pianist Spike Wilner, a ragtime specialist who runs the Smalls Live label, and drummer Billy Drummond, are also in fine form. We can only hope that Davis is scripting a major comeback and that more albums will follow. With a review of “Live at Smalls” by the Jesse Davis Quintet, I’m Lloyd Sachs. Follow me on Twitter @sachsville.