Jazz guitar fans in Bridgewater, N.J., enjoyed a concert of masterful playing and exquisite arrangements by four outstanding jazz guitarists, Sept. 21.
Under the leadership of Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, Gene Bertoncini and James Chirillo performed such classics as "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Cherokee," and "Seven Come Eleven" before a crowd of several hundred.
Each song featured solos by the four players, allowing fans to savor and compare the styles used by Pizzarelli, Alden, Bertoncini and Chirillo. The arrangements included walking bass accompaniment by either Alden or Pizzarelli, with interesting comping contributed by each.
Most songs began with a solo by Bertoncini after Pizzarelli played the head. Bertoncini, playing a D'Aquisto guitar, used his deep knowledge of arpeggios and pentatonic scales to create fresh solos to each song.
Following Bertoncini, Pizzarelli soloed on his seven string Benedetto guitar. He would start with single-note runs, often filling using blues licks, and build by adding rhythmic double octaves (fingering on the sixth, third and first strings) then close with chordal playing. Pizzarelli's solos are exciting to behold, as he builds tension by adding harmonically.
The next to solo was Alden, using what appeared to be a Gretsch Synchromatic-type of guitar (This is the new Benedetto Bambino - ed.). Alden favors shorter bursts of single note riffs, but proved he could also play chordally.
Chirillo also began some of the solo rounds or else batted clean-up. With his smooth playing on a full-voiced Guild Manhattan, he filled his choruses with melodic arpeggios and well-chosen blues licks.
Each player enjoyed an opportunity to showcase their work, which Alden used to perform two songs written for - but cut from - the soundtrack of the Woody Allen movie "Sweet and Lowdown" (see the JGO review here, which featured Alden's playing throughout. The songs followed the movie's 1930s jazz style, touching on Gypsy style.
But after Alden's solos, he and Pizzarelli dove into Django's "Nuages" during a duet, showcasing both players' ability to acknowledge the Gypsy style without compromising their own voices. Pizzarelli especially has a sense of how to insert a run or rhythmic feel to bring Django's playing to mind without overly copying his style.
During Bertoncini's solo, he played two arrangements on a nylon string guitar, then was joined by James Chirillo for a duet. Chirillo then played a solo arrangement of Billy Strayhorn's "Lush Life."
The quartet has been playing together a bit, according to the show's producers, and may work to arrange performances in venues larger than the Theater Arts auditorium of the Somerset, N.J., County Vo-Tech School. While fans of jazz should make every effort to see this show, what would be a true blessing would be the release of a CD. The arrangements of the songs often featured two players comping enharmonically, while the other pair played the melody and/or a walking bass, giving each performance a unique and complex sound. While each player stood out and each guitar's sound was identifiable, they combined to create a rich and complex jazz treat.