Barbara and Scott
The Two of Clubs

A Name You Should Know: Hilary Kole

Hilary Kole has not one, but two major CDs in the can that are waiting to burst upon an unsuspecting public. One of them has her singing duets with some of the jazz world's greatest stars while the other was produced for her by no less a personage than John Pizzarelli. Yet Kole is more than a jazz singer; perhaps that's why she has also sung with the likes of composer Michel LeGrand. Always a great musician with a dynamite voice, we have watched her grow and evolve during the last decade into an increasingly versatile vocalist who now sings with both a greater sense of fun and with considerably more heart. She opened last night at Birdland on West 44th Street in a new show with Billy Stritch at the piano, and this act confirms that she is one break away from the stardom fast lane.

Backed not only by the superb Billy Stritch as her musical director, Kole also boasts a band that includes premier bass player David Finck and stylish drummer Mark McLean. The high quality of the band brings an added element of sophistication to the performance. Certainly a scat duet of "Better Than Anything" between Kole and Stritch is as clever as it was musically thrilling. But if the band raises the caliber of the evening, Kole raises her own game in some very fundamental ways ...

In the past, even at her most impressive, she often seemed to be singing in a self-imposed bubble. One could admire her musicianship, her voice, her statuesque beauty, but both warmth and passion only flared up often enough to let you know they were there but were otherwise dormant. The only time she broke threw that bubble in the past was in a personal show bedecked with torch songs; it was not, however, a particularly commercial show. This new act is the real deal because it reaches out with a sense of infectious fun while also being invested with some of that intensity and emotion that has often been lacking in the past. Her rendition of "Why Did I Choose You?" is a stunning combination of understatement brimming with passion that is unquestionably the centerpiece of her show. But a joyful sense of play is also in evidence, as when she performs Bob Dorough's lyric-heavy but vastly amusing "I've Got Just About Everything I Need."

Another surprise in this show is her commitment to romantic love songs; these are often the hardest to pull off because they rarely evoke more than one color, but Kole picked her material well and gives each number its own complex spin. Her slow, sensual approach to "Estate" by Bruno Martino was mesmerizing, just as her combination of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" is inspired. Her encore number was "Lucky to be Me." In this case, the audience that catches her now will be lucky to see her.

Hilary Kole plays Birdland with two shows each night through August 16th. For more information, visit www.birdlandjazz.com.

The Return of Scott Barbarino and the Bev-Naps

Scott Barbarino & The Bev-Naps is a group with a long history in contemporary cabaret. The one constant, of course, is Barbarino, who plays a mock Dean Martin kind of character while his backup group has been ever-changing. The current edition of the Bev-Naps has been recruited from Ellen's Stardust Dine. They're a talented bunch of guys who sound so solid together it was surprising that Barbarino didn't take greater advantage of them in their recent show at the Metropolitan Room.

Curiously, while the current crop of Bev-Naps is all new, much of the musical material in the act is not. Most of the same classic '50s and '60s pop songs used in earlier shows were performed in the most recent show, among them "Everybody Loves Somebody" and "Twilight Time" with the same arrangements as before. If you haven't seen the act before, well, it's more than a bit slapdash but the music, at least, is nostalgically satisfying.

The one really wacky addition was the appearance both early and then late in the show by a young wild man identified only as Zach. While neither of his numbers clicked in the show, it was readily apparent that this young man is immensely talented and simply needs a strong director to help focus his gift. His rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was a train wreck, but not many trains can crash at that kind of speed! The debacle was mighty impressive!

Scott Barbarino and the Bev-Naps return to the Metropolitan Room for another show on Thursday, August 28th at 7:30 pm. Visit www.metropolitanroom.com for more information.


-- Barbara and Scott Siegel