Review: John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molasky

At the very height of the jazzier side of cabaret, you’ll find the gifted husband and wife team of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molasky. They’ve rather randomly titled their new show at the Cafe Carlyle “The Heart of a Saturday Night” after a Tom Waits song of the same name. In it, they mix familiar standards and contemporary pop-rock tunes, often pairing the old with the new in ingenious medleys.

One of the most effective and moving pairings brought together romantic “counting” songs by Irving Berlin and Jonathan Larson (I think Irv and Jon would have loved the mash-up). It made me think about the similarities between the two: both took a relatively new form they didn’t invent — the American pop song in Berlin’s case, the rock musical in Larson’s — and gave it new solidity with the depth of their craft.

I don’t know if such musings influenced the Pizzarellis’ choice of songs, but it is clear in any event that a profound musical intelligence is at work. This show in part celebrates the release of John’s CD Rockin’ In Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington, his first ever Ellington recording. In one of the evening’s most startling moments, Pizzarelli pairs Ellington with Ellington, singing the words of the Duke’s hit “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” to the music of his less-known “East St. Louis Toodle-oo”. The combination is more than apt, it’s positively elegant.

A couple other medleys, using a “fire and ice” approach that’s very satisfying, display Jessica soulfully singing Joni Mitchell opposite John coolly crooning Sondheim or bossa nova. And then there’s the “C Jam Blues” (otherwise known as “Duke’s Place”) in which John and the band solo with vigor, verve and virtuosity. Overall, the singing’s smart, the music’s deftly swung and the atmosphere sparkles. Cabaret doesn’t get much better than this.

For tickets, click here.

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