If you are a fan, student or player of Jazz Guitar, the name Bucky Pizzarelli may assuredly bring a smile to your face. Toss the name of Jazz guitarist Frank Vignola into the mix and your smile is guaranteed to grow into a wide toothy grin. The pairing of these two exceptional players is a rare treat indeed as “old school” meets “new-old school” in a wonderful session of long-standing popular songs that have stood the test of time. Both Bucky and Frank remind us just how wonderful these tunes can be when revitalised by the likes of these two outstanding stylists.
At the vanguard of Plectrum Jazz Guitar and the popular song tradition, Bucky Pizzarelli, having recently reached the ripe young age of eighty, is a much revered disciple of tunes that sadly seem to be slipping away from the books of many of today’s younger performers. But not if Bucky has anything to say about it! With his trusty 7 string Bennedetto Bucky Pizzarelli Signature model, Bucky scores a virtuosic performance of swinging notes, thumping bass lines, and pounding rhythms. And therein lays the secret of Bucky’s eminence. He is able to take the simplest of melodies and harmonies and come up with something so musical and stunning that we forget the sometimes “old hat” associations that follow these tunes around.
Take for instance the tune “Honeysuckle Rose”. A tune associated more with the older generation of Jazz Guitar players like Herb Ellis, Barney Kessell, George Barnes, Joe Pass, and Charlie Christian. But when Bucky Pizzarelli and Frank Vignola take it on it gets re-energized as a vehicle for virtuosic improvisation and rhythmic aptitude. The chord solo and walking bass line from Bucky alone would have been enough for me to dig out the tune for further analysis, but when Frank Vignola applies his trademark Django-like lines, the song is taken to a whole new level. But wait, there’s more as Bucky and Frank rip into a double time feel that has Bucky cutting into the changes “faster than a locomotion” while Frank tears up and down the fret board with a skill that is sure to place him on the A-list of sought-after players. The grin on Bucky’s face at the end of the tune says it all and is definitely a grin not to be missed.
In the hour that it takes for Bucky and Frank to play though fourteen of Bucky’s “Favorite Solos”, we are treated to engaging arrangements of each tune, exceptional musicianship, and a wonderful communication between both players. You can tell that Frank is delighted to be in the presence of Bucky Pizzarelli and the interaction between them is warm-hearted and genuine. This camaraderie is evident during the tune “Three Little Words” when Frank, playing some quick repeated trills, causes Bucky to look up from his guitar neck and smile in what can only be bona fide admiration. Or when they are about to play a medley of “Stars In your Eyes/Nuages” and Bucky warmly introduces Frank as the “American successor” to Django Reinhardt. No generation gap here folks. It’s simply two guitar players digging each other’s playing. And thankfully, there’s a ton of playing as Bucky and Frank pull out all the stops in dazzling exchanges of brilliant showmanship and ability.
Both players are exemplary rhythm players as well as gifted line players and each tune allows them to “show what they know” in a tasteful, and more importantly, musical fashion.
Case in point is the tune “Tangerine”. There’s everything in here. A melody played in octaves, walking bass lines, four-to-the-bar rhythmic “chunking”, single line soloing from both Bucky and Frank, and a chorus of brilliant chord soloing from Bucky that swings like nobodies business. Definitely a show stopper in my book as is the duo’s version of “Limehouse Blues” where Frank fires off rapid lines of improvisational deftness while Bucky lays down a solid foundation of chords amidst the low rumblings of a 7th string walking bass line. Very impressive. And speaking of being impressed, check out Bucky’s octave playing in “Nuages” as he not only employs the G and E string in making up the octave but also the low E string. Very impressive indeed!
Of course there’s a lot more incredible playing to go around and by now you should be getting the picture that is indeed a very special performance that should not be missed. But there’s something else of almost equal importance pertaining to this DVD, and that is the “romance” that Bucky Pizzarelli has had with these tunes throughout the years. It’s no mystery why the title to this DVD is Bucky Pizzarelli Favorite Solos. It is quite apparent that he feels a strong connection to these tunes and he shows us how much he cares throughout this performance. Frank seems to care as well so we’re in good hands all around. And not to be missed is the brief narration that Bucky provides before each tune placing that particular song in an historical context that references the important pioneering influences of Les Paul, Bing Crosby, Glenn Miller, and the father of Jazz Guitar Eddie Lang.
Thank you Bucky Pizzarelli and Frank Vignola! And thank you Mel Bay for the opportunity to see an outstanding performance by two fantastic talents.