John Pizzarelli – Bossa Nova

John Pizzarelli
Bossa Nova
(Telarc – 2004)
by Matthew Robinson

What does a guitar-totin’ lounge singer from Jersey know about bossa nova? Well, if this album is any indication, he could know quite a bit! Though the heart of this album is John Pizzarelli’s tribute to the legendary likes of Antionio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto, the heir to a great North American musical legacy includes a great deal of himself, among others.

Though “The Waters of March” are a bit stagnant and despite the fact that “Estate” reveals more of Pizzarelli’s Italian heritage than his Latin American love, his smoky delivery of Jobim’s “So Danco Samba” comes straight from a Carnivale cabaret, and his lilting rendition of James Taylor’s “Your Smiling Face” delivers a love poem that could make anyone (Jo-)beam. As for the real Latin lovers, “One Note Samba” makes efficient use of Pizzarelli’s vocal range, “The Girl from Ipanema” breezes along brother Martin’s bassy beach, and “Desafinado” is appropriately “off key.”

Of course, the real stars of the album are the Pizzarelli boys’ frets and the sparkling keys of pianist Ray Kennedy. Though they are featured often, Pizzarelli also stretches out into a few orchestral arrangements (including one of Stephen Sondheim’s “I Remember”) that further bolster his reedy vocals and subtle strings. Putting the not-back-enough backup singers aside, Pizzarelli’s tribute to the sound of Brazil carries across the Equator and across time and demonstrates why this uptempo romantic music does as well.

© 2004, M. S. Robinson, ARR