Affif, Pisano Engage in Some Lively Interplay


The jazz revival of the ‘90s has been notable on several counts, not the least of which has been the arrival of a gifted young generation of players. Despite the enormous skill level of the music being played, however, the one weak point has been the relatively small number of genuinely original voices--instrumental approaches possessing the kind of uniquely identifiable sound and style that makes a player almost immediately recognizable, regardless of the setting.

One of the exceptions has been guitarist Ron Affif, who just celebrated his 33rd birthday. And, remarkably, he has unleashed his individual-sounding jazz energies through an instrument that has probably attracted more players than any other for the past few decades.

Tuesday night at Papashon restaurant in Encino, the New York-based Affif made a too-brief, one-night local appearance in a particularly felicitous setting, trading choruses with veteran guitarist John Pisano and the fleet-fingered bassist Jim Hughart.

The program was basic enough: standards such as “If I Should Lose You,” “There Is No Greater Love,” the familiar bop tune “Good Bait” and loosely swinging blues. But what quickly emerged as the theme of the spontaneous set was the interaction between Affif and Pisano. Sometimes adversarial, sometimes interactive, always challenging, the duo’s playing unfolded as a series of musical encounters between two dramatically different players.


Affif’s improvisations were filled with breathtakingly risky choices. Often disregarding bar lines, he casually juxtaposed dissonant melodies against the smooth flow of the harmonies being laid down by Pisano and Hughart. Shifting from a hard-edged string sound to sudden, soft lyricism, tossing in occasional mandolin-style strumming and bongo-like tapping, he was a continual surprise, constantly abandoning the predictable for the sudden emotional rush of the unexpected.

Pisano, in contrast, soloed with smooth but gripping lines, inexorably swinging, his sense of logic and structure making almost every chorus into a mini-composition. And Hughart, whose accompaniments surged with lift and propulsion, was an equal partner in the soloing, as well, often playing loosely floating phrases as Affif and Pisano tossed fragments of melody and rhythm back and forth.

Affif’s appearance was one of a continuing series of fascinating Tuesday night guitar encounters at Papashon, in which Pisano--longtime partner of the late Joe Pass--duets with some of the world’s finest jazz guitarists. The intimate setting, up-close acoustic sound and off-the-cuff, jam session style improvising make for one of the Southland’s finest jazz bargains.


* John Pisano Guitar Nights at Papashon restaurant, 15910 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 783-6644. Tuesday: Pisano and Gene Bertoncini; Jan. 12: Pisano and Phil Upchurch. 8-11 p.m.