Some Broadway songs travel well. In different styles, tempi, and musical attitudes, they're revived and they've survived. Solidly built but flexible, they can be interpreted effectively by creative musicians in ways that let show tune fans who already know the songs see them in a new way. Recently, we've come across some CDs where the initial attraction was the inclusion of some Broadway or movie musical numbers, but they have other interesting material in the mix, too. So, since we're still a week or two away from the releases of the much-anticipated cast albums of two shows nominated for Tony Awards, let's instead look at another Tony - meaning Tony DeSare, as well as others with Broadway fare as part of their agendas.
Cool, classy, catchy and charismatic describe Tony DeSare and this CD. It arrived several weeks before the official release date (May 24), and I became addicted immediately. I keep going back to it, not only due to the happy, very finger-snappy experience, but also because it melds a traditional feel with some good, hip new songs. Tony's voice has instantly likeable energy, and he swings confidently without sounding brash. Never going very far astray, he brings a freshness to the familiar tunes.
The first two cuts are from Broadway: Sweet Charity's "Baby, Dream Your Dream" and the classic "Just In Time" from Bells Are Ringing. Johnny Mercer's "Something's Gotta Give" is another feel-good groove. But there's a tender Tony, too. The romantic Henry Mancini/Leslie Bricusse collaboration "Two For The Road" is just as rewarding a listen, bringing a smile where the aforementioned provided a grin.
Veteran guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli brings his customary care and skill to the album, and on two tracks we get one of our best younger jazz/cabaret pianists, Tedd Firth. On all the others, there's a wonderful piano player named Tony DeSare. Recently, Tony's skills on the keyboard and as a smooth vocalist were appreciated by New York audiences at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle and at Birdland, where he did a stint in the revue Our Sinatra. (He returns to Birdland not-so-coincidentally on Tuesday night, May 24, the CD release date.) His talents aren't limited to performer - along with his bass player, Mike Lee, Tony has written some top-drawer songs for himself. The charmer is featured in a new film, My Date With Drew, about a man obsessed with actress Drew Barrymore. The song is called "(I'd Have It All) If I Had Drew." My favorite DeSare penned tune is "How I Will Say I Love You" with its simple melody and lyrics that are truly sweet without getting sticky (Translation: "sincere"). Also in this mold is "Marry Me," which he wrote alone.
This is a stylish affair and one that successfully balances genuine emotion with many bursts of joyful jazz. Want You is a smash. You'll want it.
The impressive thing about the band on this CD is that there is no band. That instrumental-sounding music, percussive or brasslike, is all created by the five singers in the group known as Toxic Audio. All strong and versatile vocalists, they'd be entertaining to hear singing solo, together, a capella or with a traditional band. To listen to all those beats and riffs and wails and know they're created by human voices is to be astonished. The talented quintet is best appreciated in person so one can see the group (3 men, 2 women) making all those sounds and experience their non-stop stage energy. Thus, as a CD, it's not the same jaw-dropping kind of experience, but it works just fine, thank you. Listen to the foreground and the background to catch all of Toxic Audio's audiosynchrocies, or just let it wash over you.
Note to collectors: half the songs are on other Toxic Audio CDs. Note to newcomers: though these songs were performed in a theatre setting, these are mostly rock and jazz hits of yesteryear. "Route 66" and "Stand By Me" are included, as are two Beatles songs ("All I Gotta Do" and "Why Don't We Do It In the Road?"). However, there are two numbers at the end for show tune fans - the happy Hairspray anthem, "You Can't Stop The Beat" and the famous lament of your favorite scarecrow from Oz, "If I Only Had A Brain." Husband and wife group members Jeremy and Shalisa James wrote two numbers: "Caffeine" and "Putting Words In My Mouth" which show flair and humor. Variety comes from this mix of genres as well as each vocalist taking at least one solo turn. Despite this, it's almost all high-powered full-speed-ahead energy with mountains of sound coming at you - intense, but surely not toxic. A special acknowledgement must go to the numerous engineers, producers, and mixers for getting the sound balanced so well. If you like rhythm and a strong beat, you're in for a treat.
"Elegant" is the word comesto mind with repeated listenings to Martha Lorin's latest CD. An artist with an affinity for exploring sad songs with an adult, often dry-eyed perspective, she is able to escape a full descent into sorrow here. This is true even with selections like the less-than-optimistically titled "Why Was I Born?" That Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein oldie could have been the center of a big pity party, but she doesn't quite go there. For the most part, she'd rather make us think than cry, which is fine for all but the most masochistic listener.
Martha's extremely valuable and gifted partner in keeping these Blues Over Broadway avoid the depths of despair is pianist/arranger Russ Kassoff. He keeps things moving with rhythmic musical figures that keep "hope" close to the surface. A slowed-down version of the Kander and Ebb theme from the movie musical New York, New York might seem a surprise, but maybe it was percolating in this arranger's mind over his many years playing piano for Liza Minnelli. Guitarist Curtis Robinson has tasty commentary, too, especially throughout the thorough exploration of "Bewitched" - over nine minutes (!) with all those verses to the Rodgers and Hart perennial. Drummer Leon Joyce is nicely restrained and subtle, and Larry Gray adds colors that are anything but gray on cello, flute and bass. These musicians are not working against Martha's intents, nor overcompensating for the lonely feelings inherent in songs such as "The Party's Over" and "Send In The Clowns."
Although she might strike your ear at first as languid and low-key, her interpretations are always thoughtful and interesting. All the musicians here (and Martha is a singer who can rightly be called a musician) respect the material even when dressing it in new clothes. This lady has rich low tones and some really nice, pure head tones. Not for those with short attention spans, this is another mature and worthwhile visit with standards from someone who does it very well.
UNDER THE RADAR
With treatments that avoid cliche and recycled ideas, a certain Miss Sauer makes everything fresh. With her own arrangements on all but one number, plus some wise and surprising emphases in phrasing, this singer gives tunes even as familiar as Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" a new feel. Three other songs heard on the Broadway stage and their film equivalents are also given thoughtful, seductive stylings: "I Love Paris" (Can-Can), "I Only Have Eyes For You" (42nd Street) and Finian's Rainbow's "Old Devil Moon," which seems anything but old.
This debut disc is very professionally done, with a distinctive-sounding "find" of a songstress and excellent players who get a chance to stretch out and really play, notably Clay Moore on guitar and pianist Chris Lomheim. Percussionist Tony Axtell is the producer and he brings out the best in vocalist and bandmates. Coincidentally, it was recorded in the same Minnesota corner as the Mike Burstyn live date just discussed, but it's as hip and forward-thinking as that one is traditional, even without any post-1977 compositions.
Possessed of a voice that seems naturally smoky and sultry, Tresa also makes things warm and fuzzy in a relaxed, jazzy way. The liberties she takes with melody lines never seem cavalier; they serve the purpose of making you listen to a familiar lyric anew because of the resulting slight shift in focus. The album's title comes from a line in the opening track, the Beatles' tune "Come Together," which has a few other baby boomer pop survivors for company, such as "Alfie" and "Close To You." At the moment, my favorite is the Frank Loesser/Jimmy McHugh song, "Let's Get Lost," maybe the best example of why this album shouldn't "get lost" in the shuffle.
Time to shuffle along, but give us a mouse-click next week. Rumor has it there are some interesting new things for the end of this month, come what May. We'll be listening for you.