John Pizzarelli – Better Days Ahead

What a nice surprise! Singer and guitarist John Pizzarelli has come up with solo takes on more than a dozen Pat Metheny compositions. As they both show deep respect for each other in a recent JazzTimes interview where John was asked to talk to Pat about his new “Road To The Sun” album, recorded by The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet and Jason Vieaux, John is quoted as having loved Pat’s recordings since his teenage years. And Pat is quoted in the press release to John’s album: “To say it was flattering to have John address these tunes is an understatement. I had no idea that it was all leading to this excellent solo guitar recording of my tunes”.

John Pizzarelli "Better Days Ahead"

I have to admit that even though John had taken me by surprise with some of his earlier projects, like an album with Paul McCartney songs (“Midnight McCartney”, 2015), exquisite taste in recording lesser-known tunes (“New Standards”, 1994), his ability of merging songs together (“Double Exposure”, 2012), or simply outshining James Taylor‘s original (“Your Smile” on “Bossa Nova”, 2004), I just never expected him to take on a task like this. But thankfully, he did. And he succeeds in more ways than one: not only has he come up with a heartfelt, highly enjoyable, and truly savvy set, but he also shows and insures what an amazing composer Pat is. Plus, he chose a more than apt song as the title track for his album: what can be more confident during these times than “Better Days Ahead”? Whereas Pat’s original, from his brilliant 1989 LP “Letter From Home”, came with a highly percussive Brazilian stance, John’s slower version, trimmed down and cut to underscore the amazingly beautiful melody, simply emphasizes the essence of the tune.

One of the most hauntingly captivating tracks off “Letter From Home”, the still mesmerizing “Spring Ain’t Here”, has also found its way to John’s album. Hearing this masterpiece on his 7-string, his playing around and with the melody on this particular piece, is astounding. He comes up with ideas of wrapping around the structure of the song that it just makes you forget everything else. And the dream-like quality of the title track from “Letter From Home”, its folksy attitude, is even more relevant on his solo piece. There are two entries from Pat’s 1987 LP “Still Life (Talking)”: the pretty driving, but at the same time melancholic “Last Train Home” retains its original atmosphere, but once again becomes more focussed and somewhat relaxed. And “(It’s Just)Talk”, another Brazilian-flavored tune which had Mark Ledford’s voice on the original, opens up John’s album on a heartily festive note. His warm, full-bodied tone on the guitar actually adds more oomph than extracting it.

It would be interesting to find out about what exactly made John choose these particular tunes, but it is indeed quiet satisfying that he opted for a wide cross-section of Pat’s discography. He recorded songs both from the Pat Metheny Group as well as from Pat himself. And also, Pat sent some of the original arrangements to John. From “Offramp” (ECM, 1982), one of my favorite albums, he chose “James”, one of the most fluent and enjoyable Metheny/Mays songs. After an intro, John plays the melody in a pure and elegant fashion before he embarks on a high-flying solo, seemingly having a great bunch of fun with toying around with it. And “The Bat”, which closed “Offramp” and also closes John’s album, the dreamy qualities are back in store. From the Metheny Group’s first LP in 1978, John merges “Phase Dance” and “April Wind” for a longer story-telling, showing his capability to actually hold the listener’s interest for an extensive stretch.

And there is more to explore: from “First Circle” (ECM, 1984), John tackles the heartbreaking “If I Could” with just about the right amount of finesse and in-depth warmth to keep it from becoming too saccharine, “Antonia” from “Secret Story” (Geffen, 1992), where Pat played a synclavier accordion, gets another ingenious makeover, somehow taking away the original’s lightheartedness and putting more subtleness to the tune. And on “September Fifteenth”, from “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls” (ECM, 1981), which Pat and Lyle dedicated to Bill Evans, John excellently weaves the two parts of the song into a more than welcome paean; not only to the pianist, but to Pat Metheny as well. And to the solo guitar.

On Johns website, you’ll get all info about ordering the album. Oh and I really like the cover design!

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