JAZZ REVIEWS : Pizzi Proves a Windfall at Vinnie's

Who needs a drummer when wind instrumentalist Ray Pizzi is in the house? Working in a duo with keyboardist Joe Massimino Saturday at Vinnie's Ristorante, Pizzi blew with a lot of rhythmic snap on both flute and tenor saxophone during a program of well-known standards.

Massimino, working classic electric piano tones from his synthesizer, concentrated on the harmonic side of the ledger, whipping up involved chordal progressions for solo passages and in support of his partner. The keyboard's bell-like tones gave the performance glistening, sometimes celestial airs that, for once in this acoustic piano-less setting, made you not miss the real thing.

Pizzi opened on flute, putting sharp, breathy tones to "When Sonny Gets Blue," before swirling away into his improvisation. In support, Massimino provided sharp, chordal accents and sustained-tone platforms from which Pizzi would leap into his next line.

Still on flute, Pizzi reversed course on Michel LeGrand's "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?" This time he worked out of the low register, utilizing a vibrato as wide as the flooding Mississippi, before jumping an octave to trace the tune's theme again.

The flutist's playing became more involved on "Ain't Misbehavin' " as he strung together a series of long, involved lines that still managed to keep close to the melody. Massimino brought a strong dose of the blues to his solo, an ironic touch that suggested some misbehavin' going on even when the lyric claims there ain't.

Switching to tenor, Pizzi opened "Lover Man" with a single blast of breath, then walked into the theme with a swagger that recalled the late Dexter Gordon. One could almost see the empathy between the two musicians as they traded ideas and pushed each other to make more and more moving statements. Near the song's close, Pizzi began injecting gruff and growl tones that brought a touch of the sinister to the lament.

We've seen Pizzi more flamboyant and willing to take the music further outside in other settings--he isn't called "Wild Man" for nothing--and he seemed a bit reserved at times in deference to the room's cramped intimacy. Still, there was little tame about his playing. He nearly blasted his way through Antonio Carlos Jobim's "One Note Samba," with breathy percussion and vocalizations spoken into his flute.

In contrast, he was particularly romantic on "My Funny Valentine," picking up on the dark airs of Massimino's introduction with a baneful delivery peppered with plenty of open space--space which Massimino filled as easily as someone responding "amen" to a prayer. The two worked up a thoughtful, dynamically astute climax to the beautiful ballad.

Just when it looked like the evening's second set would be cut short as Pizzi left to replace a pad on his tenor, the saxophonist reappeared among the tables, tooting the theme to "Night and Day." Massimino, who had never stopped playing while explaining the predicament to the crowd, smiled and moved easily into the number behind him.

This was one night where there was just no stopping them.

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