Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Living Tribute--Larry Newcomb Quartet with Bucky Pizzarelli on CD

Didn't I just tell a story about Bucky Pizzarelli? Just a couple of months ago? Yeah, it was during my review of the Doug Munroe/Le Pompe Attack album on Positive Feedback. I guess I have a few pleasant memories about that old Chesky CD with Johnny Frigo, along with Bucky Pizzarelli and his son John. On that audiophile release, which I've had for almost thirty years, violinist Frigo was the focus of a "living tribute" from the father and son guitarists. Bucky was sort of the bridge between his son, the whippersnapper and Frigo, who was 72 at the time. (He still had quite a few good years left--he died in 2007 at the age of 90.)

Now we have Bucky Pizzarelli in a similar role as elder jazz statesman in Larry Newcomb's new album. Bucky is now 91 years old, and he still plays his archtop guitar with that same flowing ease, with crisp phrasing and a sly sense of fun. Newcomb is obviously no slouch--many of his performances are about paying homage to other musicians who influenced him, and he always does a fantastic job with those subtle interpretations.

Despite the fact that Bucky's very distinctive acoustic guitar work graces eight of these eleven tracks, I'm amazed at how Living Tribute stretches out and seems so varied--gentle ballads, blues, gospel and even a little bit of Grand Ol' Opry ("Gold Top"). Bucky isn't spotlighted through this mixture of standards and a handful of Newcomb originals--he's the foundation, the rhythm guitarist who keeps a study hand on the tiller so that Newcomb, pianist Eric Olsen, bassist Dmitri Kolesnik and drummer Jimmy Madison can explore and improvise--albeit modestly. It's a tight ship, and not because there's a 91-year-old guitarist on stage. He's holding his own.

The only off moments occur when Leigh Jonaitis comes aboard to sing on "One Heart Ain't As Great As Two" and "Love Is Here," two Holcomb originals. Her voice is lovely and rich, but it's recorded with a lot of echo, a lot of reverb, and she sounds like she's isolated on a different planet, or maybe the same Laurel Canyon bathroom where Jim Morrison sang "LA Woman." Lay off the knobs, guys. But other than that, Living Tribute is a smooth, precise and tempered homage to a one-of-a-kind jazz musician.

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