You need to be in a certain mood to appreciate the light
after-hours jazz of John Pizzarelli and the pop-styled jazz fusion of the
Manhattan Transfer. But it's one worth getting into.
Pizzarelli, a self-styled "21st Century version"
of Nat King Cole, opened a Saturday night show at Clowes with the Transfer,
singing and comping guitar at the head of a tight rhythm quartet. His jazz was
as light as it was light-hearted. Based on his soloing technique (technically simple
and full of repeated phrases) and his
hollow-body guitar tone, Pizzarelli reminded me of Chuck Berry - and like Berry, he
won over the audience with his too-cool personality. The crowd's appreciation
grew the more gimmicky he got, and they exploded the first time he accompanied
his own guitar solo with an identical line of scat vocals.
With Pizzarelli's group mainly playing standards, some
songs seemed inappropriate. "Solitude" was played too casually, considering
that Duke had intended it for the anguished voice of Lady Day. But on the
whole, Pizzarelli's signature light style served as a perfect hors d'oeuvre to
the Manhattan Transfer.
The sound of the Transfer, a four-part a cappella act
backed by rock instruments, can be best described as jazz-pop fusion. They
opened with an R&B-infused version of Chick Corea's "Spain" for which they
had just written lyrics in the Vocalese style. The song was all the more fun
for those who were familiar with the original, instrumental track, with the
Transfer transforming an innocent Corea piano line into "The sound of our
hearts beat like castanets." In the same vein, they closed with their
Grammy-winning version of Weather Report's "Birdland," in which all
instrumental parts —harmonic and melodic — were put to words.
The set wasn't purely jazz fusion. The high point was
when each of the four performed a solo number to promote their own newly
released 'tribute' records. Particularly strong was Cheryl Bentyne's tribute to
The night opened light and finished heavy, yet there
was nothing jarring about the pairing of John Pizzarelli and the Manhattan
Transfer. Both proved there could be nothing cooler than singing jazz.