The loss of loved ones affects us all differently and each response to their passing is as unique as we are. For Jazz Guitarist/Vocalist John Pizzarelli his solace was found in the early morning hours, seven-string Classical guitar in hand, re-imagining the music of one of his life-long musical heroes, Guitarist Pat Metheny.
As a way to deal with the pain, Pizzarelli developed these musical interpretations in early-morning sessions, alone with his guitar. “I had watched my father do this my whole life,” he remembers. “Before we ventured out to a day filled with recording sessions, ‘The Tonight Show,’ or late-night jazz gigs, he would practice classical pieces. So that’s what I felt compelled to do during this rough period. I started out playing standards, but then felt drawn to the idea of deconstructing Pat Metheny’s group arrangements from my seven-string guitar. I had loved the recordings of the Pat Metheny Group since I was a teenager, and I welcomed the challenge of diving deep into his canon of remarkably dense and moving material. Every day, it was a miraculous diversion from my own personal grief and the tragedy of the pandemic I saw unfolding on the nightly news.” *Press Release – Ghostlight Deluxe
The end result, Better Days Ahead: Solo Guitar Takes on Pat Metheny, features thirteen tracks of introspective solo guitar interpretations that span Metheny’s most impressive musical output from the earliest group album (aka the “White Album” in 1978) – “April Wind / Phase Dance” – to the more recent From This Place (2020) – “From This Place”.
Throughout the thirteen tracks, Pizzarelli digs deep to isolate the minutiae of each song in order to present the listener with as pure a form as possible with just one guitar. Tunes like “James”, “Antonia”, “(It’s Just) Talk” and “Spring Ain’t Here” to name but a few, receive a George Van Eps style solo arrangement where the melody and harmony engage each other in a most inclusive fashion as Pizzarelli performs all parts collectively and as a whole in one sitting. No mean feat given that the majority of these tunes were recorded by Metheny with a group dynamic that covered all the bases, which is why you won’t hear any overdubs or single-line blowing sections on this album like one would find on your standard chord-melody style arrangements.
“I love the fact that these are strictly solo guitar pieces which was the big thing for me. As for the blowing sections I approached them much like chord solos ala George Van Eps because – and this is something that Rick (Haydon) and I agreed to early on – I’m never going to play better single note solos on these tunes than Pat Metheny…lol!” **John Pizzarelli
Now while this may sound like a “bare-bones” approach, believe me there is a lot of guitar going on as Pizzarelli handles all the necessary elements – melody, chords, bass lines – in true solo fashion on tunes like ‘Better Days Ahead”, “September Fifteenth”, “The Bat”, “Farmer’s Trust“, “If I Could” and “Letter from Home”. “Last Train Home” also features some awesome bass line/chordal playing as Pizzarelli keeps an almost constant bass figure rolling while playing chords and melody on top, moving slightly into Lenny Breau territory. He also manages to get a fast moving train sound going on at the outro of the piece, but you may need to turn up the volume to experience it. Very cool John!
And speaking of very cool, this album was recorded in Pizzarelli’s cabin with nothing more than his Bill Moll seven-string Classical guitar, an iPad, some production assistance from friend Rick Haydon, and a lot of time to approach these tunes in a contemplative and selfless manner. I say selfless because if you are a fan of John Pizzareli you know this is not his usual choice of material or recording process. Better Days Ahead is a way more intimate album than one would expect normally and the lack of vocals places greater emphasis on Pizzarelli’s guitar playing which, given that he celebrates the music of another great Guitarist, makes perfect sense to me. For me this album also celebrates the teachings and memory of yet another great Guitarist, John’s father Bucky Pizzarelli, who instilled in his son a work ethic that remains uncompromised to this day, and in my humble opinion this solo album proves that. Thank you John and here’s to Better Days Ahead for us all!
Better Days Ahead: Solo Guitar Takes on Pat Metheny the album is now available from Ghostlight Deluxe. Thank you!
To learn more about John Pizzarelli and the making of this album, please feel free to check out his Jazz Guitar Life interview here.
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*Press Release – Ghostlight Deluxe
**John Pizzarelli Jazz Guitar Life interview