John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey slide onto their small platform at the Carlyle as comfortably as a pair serving wine, cheese and salami to old friends in their cozy living room. He tells oft-told and not very good jokes with an ingratiating smile as she looks on coolly, lobbing in a deflating gibe to get him back on track. He has his trusty guitar in hand, as a prop and a promise of things to come, and the two of them share a grand old time with those 80 or 90 friends — many of them repeat customers — crowded around the coffee table.
Such is the informal, party-like atmosphere in the grand old room on upper Madison Avenue. Pizzarelli and Molaskey appear to be there only to enjoy and entertain. Until they start singing, that is; the smiles on their sunny faces remain through most of the songs, but beneath the seeming ease are two exceptional singers at work, enhancing and savoring every note and every word. The musicianship is by this point no surprise; he sings and scats and glides along his frets like a wizard on a deranged Ouija board, while she soothes us with a voice more refreshing than a cool, tall drink on a lazy afternoon.
Their musical tastes are somewhat different — “52nd Street meets 42nd Street,” as he puts it — but part of the joy of the act is the way they explore their own paths but always find common ground. Pizzarelli is plugging his superb new Telarc CD of Richard Rodgers songs, “With a Song in My Heart”; seven items are present, including “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “Happy Talk” and a simply breathtaking “It’s Easy to Remember.” Molaskey pulls songs from her own CD coming in November, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” (from Arbors Jazz). These include an especially delicious rendition of Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields’ “Happy Habit,” a new Pizzarelli-Molaskey composition called “Hiding in Plain Sight” and “Everybody Loves Louis” from “Sunday in the Park With George.” (Molaskey was a featured lead in this spring’s revival of the Sondheim musical at Studio 54.)
Program includes several duets, where the extra-musical couple find a way to dovetail unrelated items such as her luscious “Will He Like Me?” (from “She Loves Me”) paired with his “I Have Dreamed,” or his “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” with her “Children Will Listen.” High point may be their “meditation on codependence” that intertwines Vincent Youmans’ “I Want to Be Happy” and “Sometimes I’m Happy.” They have sung this before in cabaret venues, but it remains startlingly vibrant on repeated hearings.
Either Pizzarelli or Molaskey, standing up there alone with their expert trio (Larry Fuller on piano, brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass and Tony Tedesco on drums), can and have given us sterling evenings of high-class cabaret. The Carlyle offers a two-fer, through the end of October, and the doubled pleasure is ours.