The Show Before The Show – Live At The Penn & Teller Theatre – Capri 

A cheerful little earful of musical magic

The Show Before The Show – Live At The Penn & Teller Theatre Capri Records 74148-2 60:38****:

( Mike Jones – piano; Penn Jillette – bass)

There has been a connection between music and magic for many years, but it was probably best illustrated in 1942 when Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, penned That Old Black Magic which had the following opening lines: “ That old black magic has me in its spell/That old black magic that you weave so well.” The singer Billy Daniels took the song over with his hit rendition in 1951. So it probably should not come as a complete surprise that one half of the Penn & Teller magic act, Penn Jillette , dipped his toe in  the jazz world as a bassist supporting the remarkable pianist Mike Jones in the Capri Records release The Show Before The Show.

This is not some dilettante thing for Penn Jillette, but rather an avocation that became a vocation. Since 2002 Jones and Jillette have been performing together before the Penn & Teller Las Vegas show begins. Remembering that the pre-show audience is not exactly hipster-ville, the duo’s set list is made up predominantly of standards that are easily hummable and stylistically familiar. The lead track is “Broadway” a jazz standard from the 1940s which was popularized by The Count Basie Orchestra. It swings along at a steady groove with Jones a purring power source, aided by a steady bass line from Jillette.

No wanting to overlook the impact of the Bossa Nova in American culture, Jones and Jillette dive into two classics, namely Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Corcovado” and Luis Bonfa’s “Manha de Carnaval”. On the former, when Gene Lees added lyrics, the song became “Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars” and turned out to be a Top 100 Billboard Hit when it was recorded by Andy Williams in 1965. Jones, being the savvy pianist that he is, maintains demonstrative command of the fundamentals of the number. Bonfa’s composition was the principal theme music to Marcel Camus’  Brazilian Portuguese-language film Orfeu Negro. Jones shows he understands the musical theme as he effortlessly explores the harmonic tensions of the number with his strong two handed approach. Jillette continues his reliable work on the bass.

Whether the duo are executing many of those timeless favourites such as “Have You met Miss Jones” or “There Is No Greater Love” they exhibit that artistic accommodation that results in a pleasant earful of musical expression. The session closes with the Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields standard “Exactly Like You” which turns out to be an extravaganza of two handed piano playing with a walking bass line and mid range chords reminiscent of the late great Dave McKenna.

TrackList: Broadway; Corcovado; But Not For Me; Have You Met Miss Jones; There Is No Greater Love; Manha de Carnaval; Tangerine; On The Sunny Side Of The Street; Box Viewing Blues; Exactly Like You

—Pierre Giroux

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