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Family Matters, Lightly Rendered

Date: 2001-04-17
source: The New York Times
author: Stephen Holden

If an award were given to the First Family of Cool, high on the list of contenders would have to be the Pizzarellis: the jazz guitarist and singer John Pizzarelli; his guitar legend father, Bucky; John's wife, the Broadway singer Jessica Molaskey; and his bass-playing younger brother, Martin. Ray Kennedy, the extraordinary pianist in John's trio for the last eight years, certainly qualifies as an honorary Pizzarelli.

That clan is back at Feinstein's at the Regency(through May 5), where they are offering a supremely musical, lighthearted pop-jazz variety show. Its musical core is John's trio, whose leader readily admits it wouldn't exist without the precedent of the old Nat (King) Cole Trio. The Pizzarelli brothers and Mr. Kennedy have carried that trio's cool, tautly swinging 40's sound to a new level of virtuosity. Throw in a big dash of John Pizzarelli's playfully goofy humor (Wednesday's show included a hilarious monologue about a song featured in a vintage Bugs Bunny cartoon) and you also have smart, improvisational comedy whose wit nearly matches the music's saucy bravado.

It used to be that Mr. Pizzarelli's sly, low-key jazz crooning fell short of his guitar-playing, but no longer. Especially in a version of "Shine on Your Shoes," Mr. Pizzarelli's scat-singing and finger-picking, Mr. Kennedy's endlessly inventive piano runs and the trio's frantic rhythmic intensity sustained a mood of pure, heavenly euphoria.

Ms. Molaskey fits comfortably into the format because her pop-jazz singing is so infectiously happy. Her version of "The Red, Red Robin" on Wednesday was a sweetly delicate wail of childlike joy. The most pensive moment belonged to the elder Mr. Pizzarelli, whose hushed, ruminative "Lush Life" on solo guitar had an orchestral fullness.