Crooning guitarist John Pizzarelli and his charming partner in life and music, Jessica Molaskey, always raise the bar to a stratospheric level of quality whenever they appear in concert halls and cabarets. Their wonderful new show in Bobby Short’s old throne room at the Café Carlyle is called, for no logical reason, “The Heart of a Saturday Night,” but for rapturous joy, purity and music that swings, any night of the week will do.
Without expressing a lot of visible emotion, they let their voices do the work for them, caressing and complementing each other like two swooning doves, mated for life. Lyric lines move without pauses for mental transitions, yet you get every nuance. John’s warm voice is low, firm, straightforward, with fine diction, and wife Jessica has a theatrical timbre that lulls and seduces, yet her intonation is so exceptional that she makes even her most obscure songs sound like familiar favorites. What makes their vocal blends so mesmerizing is their ability to mix and match two songs at once, finding the subtexts in Joni Mitchell’s “Conversation” and Stephen Sondheim’s “You Must Meet My Wife.” A swinging midsection focuses on the timeless jazz of Duke Ellington (the subject of their latest dazzling CD collection), ranging from the sweet, gorgeous sadness of John’s dreamy solo on “All Too Soon” to the low-down vitality of “C Jam Blues.” Tom Waits, the worst singer in the history of lockjaw, is also something of a poet. Few people perform his songs because it’s next door to impossible to understand the lyrics when he croaks them. Jessica took the time to decipher his vocal hieroglyphics, and the result is the evening’s highlight, a hair-curling, heart-wrenching ballad called “Drunk on the Moon,” one that even Mabel Mercer might have adored.
When they shift into vocal time patterns, they often remind me of the unbeatable jazz duo Jackie Cain and Roy Kral. But accompanied by the dazzling pianist Larry Fuller, the ace drummer Tony Tedesco and younger brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass, John’s intoxicating guitar and Jessica’s melodic voice achieve a martini-shaker musical potpourri that is very uniquely their own. Thus, Count Basie’s “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” becomes a fractious free-for-all; “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” finds a surprising but perfect counterpart in “As Time Goes By.” No bombast here, just one of the most intelligent, imaginative and unforgettable class acts on the planet. Through Nov. 6, and don’t even think of missing this one.