Never mind that several of John Pizzarelli’s song choices at the Cinegrill are holdovers from the selections on his “Live at Birdland” disc, which Telarc released in April. Fine as that album is, Pizzarelli is still finding room to expand the humor, focus the romance and spread out on the fretboard. Pizzarelli’s doesn’t stray far from the tone of the “Birdland” disc with this show — it’s back to Cabaret 101, he says, “love and romance.” It’s a fabulous family affair on view here — brother, dad and wife are in the act — and this 90-minute effort breezes by in no time.
Pizzarelli calls the evening “the Von Trapps on martinis” and he’s not too far off the mark, though one doubts the singing Austrians ever had a crowd in stitches the way Pizzarelli did on opening night. The singer is a charming and benevolent host, and wisely that’s a sidelight — he is first and foremost a guitarist, schooled on swing masters such as Django Reinhardt and Freddie Green and capable of riffing away with efficiency and lyricism. His voice is gentle and unforced; it won’t astound but it gets the job done.
He has an affinity for lightweight songs — opener “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” is evening’s sturdiest standard — and when he dives into “Rhode Island,” the humor, phrasing and improvisation meld in captivating fashion. Beyond a combo scat-and-guitar solo, he’s rarely flashy and often church-mouse quiet, though any guitar student would be impressed with the way he works his seven-stringed Moll guitar. It’s jazz as a gentleman’s artform, not all that different from Lyle Lovett at his most urbane.
Toward the end of the evening, Bucky Pizzarelli emerges for a few guitar duels, and neither father nor son treats the other with kid gloves. They go after each other — the elder being better versed in bebop tricks, the son wielding ideas from folkies and rock acts like Deep Purple. One misstep in the night is allowing wife Jessica Molaskey her own composition, a big, closing-credits sort of tune that seems better fit for Carly Simon or Celine Dion. Tune disrupts the evening’s flow.
Current tour celebrates the trio’s 10th year, and it’s clear they have found a collective voice, enhanced by the piano of Ray Kennedy. During his run with RCA in the 1990s, he was paired with tunes that were too famous and drew unfair comparisons. The course he has taken while on Telarc is much more in line with his talents, as evidenced by his fine show.
Pizzarelli will do 10 shows Oct. 8-19 at Radio City Music Hall on the “Sinatra: His Voice. His World. His Way.” program.