By Michael Katz
I first discovered John Pisano’s Guitar Night at Rocco’s up in Beverly Glen (it had started at Papashon’s in Encino in 1997) and followed it through the years at the late, lamented Spazio’s. But I hadn’t seen the latest incarnation at Vitello’s until Tuesday night, when he fronted another stellar show with Anthony Wilson and bassist Jim Hughart. Alas, Guitar Night is moving once more, down the road to Toluca Lake next month, but a full house was on hand in the upstairs room as Pisano and Wilson wove blissful and bluesy duets through two sets.
There’s a transcendental feeling to these shows, with their living room vibe and purely improvisational manner; you sit back and let the music find its form for the evening. Pisano, as is his custom, laid back at the start, letting his guest set the pace and provide the early licks. They started out wading casually into “I’ll Remember April,” Wilson darting and weaving around the melody while Pisano backed him up rhythmically – the absence of a drummer was scarcely noticed. They melded into “Alone Together,” picking up the pace in a gentle manner, Hughart providing some nice bass work, as he did throughout the evening.
The first set really started finding its identity with “Willow Weep For Me.” Wilson’s opening solo established the tone, a bright and bluesy tempo that became downright funky as it moved along. Pisano picked up the vibe, and by the time they were finished they’d pretty much wrung every ounce out of “Willow.”
The electricity lingered through “It Could Happen To You.” Wilson was out front again, but Pisano was weighing in now, with his classically tasteful riffs. As the evening wore on, it was the little things that you noticed, the playful way the guitarists approached the tunes. In “All Or Nothing At All,” they flew through the main themes, then vamped toward the end, playing downward chordal progressions at the close, as if searching for an exit at the end of a maze.
One of the fun things about Guitar Night is identifying the tunes amidst the fraternal interplay. As the second set started, I listened to Wilson fingering his riffs, Pisano sketching a theme in the background. I thought I picked up the chords of “I’ll Remember You.” Then guitarist Ron Anthony walked by and sat down with us. He leaned over and whispered, “I’ll Remember You?” I nodded, pleased with myself.
Guitar Nights lean heavily on standards; they are the lingua franca among musicians who play together infrequently. But the touches are superb. “Body and Soul” started lightly, almost samba-like, before Wilson took it over with his extended solo. Pisano introduced “Everything You Are” in ¾, and the three of them explored its nooks and crannies, dissecting the opening/closing bridge with a delightful digression.
The set ended up with a rousing “Have You Met Miss Jones,” Wilson and Pisano engaging in dynamic interplay, leaving nothing on the table as the late night remnants of the crowd roared their approval. Pisano, believe it or not, will be 81 next week, and long time Guitar Night favorite Barry Zweig will be 70, the two of them celebrating their birthdays next week as the Vitello’s residency winds down. Wherever they land, they are one of LA’s enduring joys.
Photos by Bob Barry.
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