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Sunday, 13 December 2015

Review: John Pizzarelli Channels Paul McCartney and Antônio Carlos Jobim

John Pizzarelli, Paul McCartney and Antônio Carlos Jobim: now there’s a musical dream team. And on Tuesday evening, that triumvirate occupied the stage of Birdland in spirit, if not in the flesh. A small orchestra that included a string quartet and four horns, augmented by three backup singers, completed the picture.

The dream team was just that, given that Jobim died in 1994 and Mr. McCartney was otherwise engaged. But Mr. Pizzarelli, one of the foremost interpreters of Jobim’s bossa nova classics, conjured their spirit in a revelatory program of Mr. McCartney’s post-Beatles songs, many of which he performed with a samba pulse. The concert anticipated the September release of Mr. Pizzarelli’s album, “Midnight McCartney” (Concord Records).

Mr. Pizzarelli, who played guitar on Mr. McCartney’s 2012 album, “Kisses on the Bottom,” is a kindred soul to the musician, who he said had suggested that he record “Midnight McCartney” as a platform for the post-Beatles love songs. Since the breakup of the Beatles, Mr. McCartney has been a staunch devotee of the kind of moon-June-spoon love songs that rock ’n’ roll was supposed to have made obsolete. And he has helped keep that tradition alive in writing radically simplistic lyrics.

The show opened with two of Mr. McCartney’s most famous ’70s hits, “Silly Love Songs” and “My Love.” Performed back to back, they reiterated his defiant songwriting declaration of independence summed up in the words: “Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs/And what’s wrong with that?”

The ungrammatical assertion, “My love does it good,” implies a populist songwriting credo: It’s much less important to analyze love than to feel it and express it in whatever words you have at hand. It’s the feeling that counts, and that feeling is universal.

The most luminous moment was Mr. Pizzarelli’s rendition of “Warm and Beautiful,” originally heard on “Wings at the Speed of Sound,” the 1976 album that included “Silly Love Songs.” When he turned up the energy in “Maybe I’m Amazed,” the warmth became impassioned.

To an unexpected degree, as balladeers Mr. Pizzarelli and Mr. McCartney are vocal soul mates who project an unassuming, intimate conversational bonhomie that can be seductive when propelled by a light samba pulse. A glowing example was his bossa-nova infused rendition of “My Valentine,” from “Kisses.” You could use a fancy term like “musical synergy” to describe the evening. But another observation about love from “Silly Love Songs,” “I only know that when I’m in it ... it isn’t silly at all,” gets to the essence.


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