Double Exposure is, in a sense, the ultimate John Pizzarelli collection. On the one hand, it cheekily uses as source material from the time of Pizzarelli’s own youth: tunes by Billy Joel, Neil Young, the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, The Allmann Brothers, even Seals and Crofts. On the other hand, Pizzarelli renders them either in tandem with cleverly-interlocking jazz tunes or in a style (swing, bossa nova, jump) that comes from his life playing jazz. “Double Exposure” suggests that Pizzarelli is presenting you in some cases with two songs fused into one—such as Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” and Tom Waits’ “Drunk on the Moon” in a single, fused performance. In other cases he simply repackages a newer song in an idiosyncratically older style, creating a similar effect.
No doubt: opinions will vary widely on this disc, depending perhaps on each listener’s deference to or respect for the utter sanctity of the original recordings. But for me, this collection of potential mistakes is mostly wonderful. This is less because of the ingeniousness with which Pizzarelli has arranged these songs than because of the sheer charm with which he sells them. In short, Pizzarelli loves these songs and also deeply loves swing-style jazz—so usually he makes it all work together.
In a couple of cases, however, the pure idea of the combination is terrific. Maybe the best thing on Double Exposure is the recasting of Costello’s “Allison” as a swaying bossa nova, floating on a new set of chords and shot through with a poignant muted trumpet solo. The original song was heard by a million kids in the ‘70s and ‘80s as a straight love song when, in fact, it was a twisted tale of revenge. Here, Pizzarelli sings the lyrics clearly so you can’t miss them, yet they are rendered so gently that the irony is, if anything, greater than in the original. Brilliant.
Plenty of folks won’t tolerate any fiddling about with Beatles songs, so anointed are the originals, but Pizzarelli’s notion to marry Lee Morgan’s funky “The Sidewinder” with “I Feel Fine” is smile-worthy most certainly. The grooving backbeat hits of the jazz tune hop up the Beatles into hip toe-tapping and don’t seem forced at all. The tunes fit together so neatly that the band is able to splice elements of the instrumental tune into the midst of the Beatle lyrics. Tasty.
What doesn’t work? Putting Miles Davis’s “So What” as the frame around Seals and Croft’s “Diamond Girl” seems forced, particularly because that kind of modal jazz is not really Pizzarelli’s thing to begin with. James Taylor’s “Traffic Jam” is remade as a Lambert, Hendricks & Ross vocalese feature along with the Joe Henderson tune, “The Kicker”. The singing and lyrics (with references to Samuel Beckett and Sartre among many other things) are terrific and feature Pizzarelli’s talented singing wife, Jessica Molasky, but all the jazz business wipes out the original tune utterly.
Read my complete PopMatters review at: John Pizzarelli: Double Exposure