Thus far, the most successful Lexus Jazz at the Bowl concerts have been those where the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra waited until after intermission to strut their brassy stuff, leaving the first half to guest soloists and swinging combos. While you never want to recommend hard-and-fast formulas, you gotta admit that it worked again Wednesday night, thanks in great part to the performances of three guest guitarists in a program entitled “Swingin’ on Six Strings.”
Both Verve recording artist Mark Whitfield and former Diana Krall sideman Russell Malone found themselves working with the same pickup trio (pianist Anthony Wonsey, bassist Peter Washington, drummer Greg Hutchinson) on one rehearsal — giving guitar buffs an illuminating opportunity to directly compare the two. Whitfield continues to bear the heavy marks of his influences — the energetic R&B-tinged chording of George Benson, the octaves of Wes Montgomery (which Whitfield also plays with his thumb), standard sharp-toned bop runs — in tunes like “Girl Talk” and a truckin’ original, “7th Avenue Stroll.”
But the underrated Malone has gone further toward establishing his own personality, far less beholden to his influences, generating a lot more drive and momentum with less effort. After implanting his rounded signature on “Mug Shot,” “Something’s Gotta Give,” and a lovely solo “Heather On the Hill,” he suddenly brought out some nasty electric blues. And later, when Malone and Whitfield went mano-a-mano on Montgomery’s “Four On Six,” it was Malone who swung more easily and infectiously.
Working on his seven-string guitar, John Pizzarelli and his nifty trio delivered a pocket version of their tightly-knit, King Cole Trio-patterned act, with more emphasis now on Pizzarelli’s rapid-fire single string solos and cranked-up rhythm guitar. Along with venerable crowd-pleasers like “It’s Only a Paper Moon” and “I Got Rhythm,” Pizzarelli also trotted out a fine ballad of his own in roughly the same retro idiom, “The Day That I Found You.”
Unlike last week, the CHJO came out in high gear in the second half, with saxophonist Rickey Woodard and trumpeter Oscar Brashear burning on “Nice To Meet You” and the entire band romping through “Soupbone.” Also co-leader John Clayton unveiled some welcome, intriguingly different instrumental flavors — using a deliberately mistuned upright piano to lend a Balinese coloring to “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” bathing Pizzarelli’s vocal solo on “If I Had You” with a pungent clarinet choir.
Alas, fewer people (only 5,823) turned out to hear them.