Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Music Review: Christiane Noll - Gifts

This article was first published at Blogcritics

Christiane Noll joins Patty LuPone and Norbert Leo Butz in Broadway Records’ 54 Below live cabaret performance series with her album Gifts. Perhaps best known for her role as Emma Carew in the musical Jekyll and Hyde, the talented singer has established herself as a legitimate member of the Broadway aristocracy, and her cabaret act demonstrates why that is.
Of course a good cabaret act assumes a fine voice, but a great cabaret act demands more. The best acts have a theme; they have a narrative arc. In the popular jargon of the trade, there must be a journey. “Gifts,” as Noll explains in a liner note, “from my father I now share with my daughter.” ”Music,” she continues, “was not only our family trade, it was how we expressed ourselves and our inner most emotions.” Family and music are her theme.

 Brought up in a house filled with music, her father was a conductor and music supervisor for CBS, her mother a soprano, she was, as she describes it in her two part medley “Growing Up,” even as a baby enthroned atop a grand piano in the family apartment, inundated with music. Her father would play; her mother would sing, and she gives us a taste, a little Puccini, a bit of Mozart, some Victor Herbert, and some Gilbert and Sullivan. As she grows, she looks to develop her own sound, leaping from “Whistle While You Work” to “What I Did for Love.”

She goes on to run through her career, from poorly chosen audition material to her Broadway success and her father’s pride in her Jekyll and Hyde debut, of course with appropriate musical examples. Then moving on to her pride in her own daughter, whose singing it turns out can tame a playground bully. It is an endearing, if perhaps a mite sentimental journey.

Along the way there is the music. She opens the set with “Somewhere Out There” from “An American Tale.” Highlights include “The Sound of Music,” an intense version of “Send in the Clowns,” and an unexpected choice in “Some Enchanted Evening.” There is a nice change of pace in the “Museum Song” from Barnum, and an homage to her Ella Fitzgerald period in her encore (in an arrangement by her father) “Mr. Paganini.” Of course, no performance would be complete without “In His Eyes,” her Jekyll and Hyde show stopper, and while composer Frank Wildhorn isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, listening to her sing his music, it is enough to make you wonder why.

Christiane Noll is as versatile a singer as you’re likely to come across, and her versatility shines through on this album. She can sing opera and art songs. She can do patter; she can swing. And if it looks like she’s found a permanent home on the Broadway stage, her cabaret act gives her the opportunity to show off her other talents.

You can check out Noll singing “The Sound of Music” and doing a promo video for the show on YouTube.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Music Review: George Shearing & Don Thompson - George Shearing at Home

This article was first published at Blogcritics

Thompson explains: the two men began collaborating in 1982, when after many years working with his quintet, Shearing looked to the greater freedom of the duo format. In a CBC Music,  interview Thompson says: “The duo situation was really a liberating experience for George after so many years of being confined to the rigidity of the quintet. In the quintet, every note is played exactly the same every night. . . .” In 1983, the pair had a six week gig in Manhattan and they would get together in the afternoons in the living room of Shearing’s apartment and play. One afternoon, he says in the liner notes, he suggested that they “lay down a few tracks ‘just for fun.’” Shearing agreed and the result is George Shearing at Home from Jazzknight Records.

As Thompson tells it the reason it took all these years for the album to be released was because Shearing was under contract to Concord Jazz at the time and they were not interested in anything that wasn’t recorded by their engineer in their own studio. Recently when Shearing’s wife was visiting in Canada, he gave her copies of the recordings, and she agreed they needed to be made available to the public. Shearing fans will be forever grateful. This is one great pianist at the top of his game.

The album’s 14 tracks are a mix of standards and jazz classics. There is one original composition: Thompson’s own “Ghoti,” a tune with a bebop flair that features some swinging interaction between the bass and the piano. There are also four solo piano tracks. The album opens with a syncopated version of the Rogers and Hart tune “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” followed by a moody take on “A Time For Love.” The traditional  “Skye Boat Song” is perhaps an unusual choice for a jazz album, but it certainly adds variety. Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation” and Lee Konitz’s “SubconsiousLee” are more likely fodder, and the duo rips them.

The solo highlights include a lovely dramatic version of that old chestnut, “Laura.” Shearing gives it new life. There is an atmospheric impressionistic take on “I Cover the Waterfront.” In the liner notes, Thompson says that when they played it at the club, Shearing would joke that it was “a beautiful piece written by Marlon Brando.” “Can’t We Be Friends?” gets a bluesy treatment that comes off as a duet between the pianist’s right and left hand. Thompson says that this is the only time Shearing played “Beautiful Love” which concludes the album.

George Shearing belongs in the piano pantheon with the likes of Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck, and this is an album that makes that very clear.