The weather outside was frightful, but Blues Alley offered more than just shelter from the storm on Monday night for a surprising number of people. During one of his all too infrequent visits to town, guitarist Gene Bertoncini combined great artistry with good humor, moving from the sublime (pieces by Bach, Chopin, Jobim, Billy Strayhorn, Richard Rodgers and Hoagy Carmichael) to the ridiculous (jokes aplenty) and back again.
Playing a classical guitar with a cutaway body that allowed access to the upper frets, Bertoncini opened the evening with a solo set that included a lovely melding of two Strayhorn gems ("Lush Life" and "Isfahan"). The veteran guitarist often favors swing-era music or movie themes that have a lot of harmonic complexity and motion, but as he moved through these and other solo arrangements, the melodies invariably shone through the shifting chords like rays of light. His deft touch was also evident when he illustrated the Chopin-Jobim connection by elegantly juxtaposing the Prelude in E Minor with "How Insensitive."
During the latter half of the performance Bertoncini was accompanied by bassist Joe Byrd, brother of the late guitar great Charlie Byrd and a musician well versed in uncluttered swing and smoothly dovetailing collaborations. It was impossible to hear the duo, quietly weaving or trading lines, without being reminded of Charlie Byrd's legacy and repertoire. Still, there was nothing faded about their George Shearing-inspired interpretation of "East of the Sun," and nothing to inhibit the breezy charm of the bossa-nova classic "Wave."
-- Mike Joyce