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Jazz Review : Ray Pizzi Unveils New Sounds, Sights At Latc

April 23, 1986|LEONARD FEATHER

Ray Pizzi has an image problem. Actually, the problem is the public's rather than his: Having followed his career as a multi-instrumentalist, his admirers must now consider him in a new light, as a serious and talented composer.

Monday at the Los Angeles Theatre Center's Tom Bradley Theatre he unveiled his new arrangements of 10 original works, most of them involving a string quartet, along with a rhythm section. Switching from tenor sax to alto flute to flute to soprano sax to bassoon, he displayed equal dexterity on all, but was most affecting on tenor sax. It is a joy to hear this instrument dealt with respectfully, to listen to it pleading and praying instead of growling and squeaking.

Pizzi is a melodist who pens logical, often pretty themes cast in a pre-fusion, non-electronic mold. His writing for the strings was simple and agreeable, especially in the Brazilian-tinged "Love Eyes" and "Deja Vu," the latter a lucid vehicle for alto flute.

The bassoon, of which Pizzi is one of the mercifully few jazz masters, was deployed after intermission, its froglike sound applied to two brief originals and to "All the Things You Are." Pizzi's only bassoon feature utilizing the strings was "Song for Grandpa," in which we also heard that rara avis, a studio violinist who is also a capable jazz soloist, Richard Greene.

This adventurous recital provided several other unexpected pleasures, such as Jim Fox, a guitarist who blends a muscular sound with a melodic style, and Frank Marocco, a pianist who often switched to accordion, reminding us that it is at least as admissible to the jazz family as the bassoon. But the true surprise--I would have called her the show-stealer had she not galvanized everyone else into optimum action--was a lissome dancer, L. Martina Young, who choreographed her three numbers as if she had studied every twist and turn and phrase in Pizzi's writing. This was indeed poetry in motion, the best integration of dance and jazz performance I've seen in years.

After the strings departed, Pizzi encored with a song that begged to be part of the show: "Over the Rainbow," the title tune of his recent surprise-hit movie short. He played it straight, on tenor, providing a tastefully low-key ending to a generally delightful evening of accessible and unpredictable sounds and sights.

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