Over the past 11 years, the John Pizzarelli Trio has been sharpening its routines to such a fine degree that it had become one of the most entertaining acts in jazz. Check out last year’s compulsively enjoyable double-CD “Live at Birdland,” where label Telarc finally carried out a can’t-miss idea that should have been obvious all along — just record the act. And judging from the energy level of the expanded group’s second night at Catalina’s Wednesday, a terrific show has become even better.
They’re doing it two ways.
One is the addition of a drummer, Tony Tedesco, to the King Cole Trio-based format of guitar-piano-bass. The trio already could swing mightily within such a restricted palette, but now, Tedesco’s nifty brush work lifts its groove to another level — a less-intimate sound perhaps, but with greater explosive potential. As a result, the Cole oldie “Hit That Jive, Jack” jumped like mad, with Ray Kennedy’s piano gathering heat and Pizzarelli’s high-speed scat-guitar breaks swinging harder than ever, building to a shouting coda.
The other significant addition was a big swerve south toward Brazil, where not only the vast treasured songbook of Antonio Carlos Jobim awaited, but also the possibilities of re-routing American material into bossa nova territory. Pizzarelli’s new Telarc album “Bossa Nova” tries several such roads to Brazil, obtaining best results when his single-string guitar solos evoke those of Bola Sete.
Pizzarelli’s voice, which still has the timbre of an eager teenager, isn’t always right for the sensuous material. Yet he could hit the target in such diverse things as Jobim’s clever transformation of “Fascinatin’ Rhythm” into bossa nova, the classic “Aguas de Marco,” and the set’s concluding high-energy vocalize samba.
Better yet, Pizzarelli had Daniel Jobim, the composer’s grandson, with him, shyly delivering Portuguese (and English) vocals with the stamp of authenticity.
Pizzarelli also isn’t afraid to kid the Brazilians — a false start on James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” a la bossa nova collapsed in laughter, followed by an effective, on-the-level Brazilian treatment of Taylor’s “Your Smiling Face.”