Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Sari Kessler Breathes New Life into Old Songs Uptown

If you’re a jazz singer, why on earth would you want to cover a bunch of songs that have been done to death by thousands of others over the years? New York singer Sari Kessler took a bunch of them – along with a few choice obscurities – reinvented them and made them her own, a rare and distinctive achievement. Kessler is a very attentive and nuanced interpreter, working these numbers line by line. Depending on the lyric, she can be disarmingly direct, even biting one second, then misty and melancholy, or coy and sultry the next. Much if not all of her latest album Do Right is streaming at her music page (it hasn’t hit Spotify yet). She’s playing Minton’s uptown on August 21 at 7:30 PM; there’s no cover but there is a two-item (food/drink) minimum which if YOU do right shouldn’t run you more than twenty bucks, maybe a lot less. Remember, coffee and seltzer are drinks.

The album opens auspiciously with a take of Burt Bacharach’s Walk on By that does justice to the Dionne Warwick (e) original but also puts an artsier spin on it. Elvis Costello’s Bacharach collaborations have a lot to recommend them, but this outdoes them in the purist jazz ballad department. Then Kessler reinvents the old Bessie Smith hit After You’ve Gone as a jaunty, defiant bossa, fueled by John di Martino’s dancing piano and Houston Person’s tenor sax, the bandleader taking a coolly triumphant little scat solo as the song winds out.

Kessler subtly builds the Depression-era swing lament Why Don’t You Do Right – the album’s title track, more or less – to a gritty exasperation, echoing the classic Rasputina version emotionally if not musically. The album’s most shattering track is The Gal from Joe’s. Di Martino’s rainy-day piano in tandem with Willard Dyson’s brushy grey-sky drums make it a real haunter, on par with Jeanne Lee’s iconic collaborations with noir pianist Ran Blake.

Kessler and band go a long way toward redeeming Bobby Hebb’s Sunny – reputedly the most-covered song ever – adding a similarly dark, clave-fueled undercurrent. Tackling It’s a Wonderful World may a recipe for disaster, but Kessler reinvents it by duetting with Steve Whipple’s bass, Sarah Vaughan-style, with a hint of klezmer acerbity. Then di Martino comes in and the band swings it, spacious and dancing.

Kessler gives I Thought About You a tender, wistful, gentle clave groove, the balmy horn chart and Nadje Noordhuis’ judicious flugelhorn solo matching guitarist Ron Affif’s purist, low-key bossa approach. The old novelty hit The Frim Fram Sauce, and its Dr. Seuss menu, has new relevance in this era of trendy new spots slinging organic locavore artisanal curated bespoke cuisine in the furthest ghetto corners of Brooklyn; Kessler’s totally deadpan delivery drives the satire home.

Feeling Good follows a steady upward trajectory, Affif’s cautious-then-exuberant solo at the center. The slow drag My Empty Bed Blues has equal parts bittersweetness and retro charm. Kessler imbues Too Close for Comfort with a Sinatra-like knowingness and precision, matched by di Martino’s clenched-teeth solo.. The two wrap up the album with a piano-vocal lullaby take of Moonglow. If you’re sick to death of restaurant singers phoning in stuff like All of Me, Kessler and her first-class band are a breath of fresh air.

August 14, 2016 Posted by | blues music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/29/11

More new stuff in the pipeline than we can keep track of: classical party music in the West Village and a wild night in Dumbo, among a million other things. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #611:

Sarah Vaughan – Sarah +2

To a generation of fans, Sarah Vaughan is divine; another camp (guess which one we’re in) thinks she could have done more with less. On this 1962 album she does exactly that, backed magically and tersely by Barney Kessel on guitar and Joe Comfort on bass. Kessel absolutely owns this album, reminding why he was was one of the most sought-after (and today, underrated) guitarists ever. No effects, no frills, no overplaying, just richly counterintuitive syncopation, surgical precision and a dynamic chordal attack, and Comfort’s even more minimalist bass is just as cool. The spacious arrangements mean that much of the time it’s Vaughan solo, or with the bass, or the guitar. The big hit here was The Very Thought of You. Just in Time starts out like Peggy Lee’s The Fever until the guitar finally comes in; When Sunny Gets Blue doesn’t have the intensity of Jeanne Lee’s version, but what does? All I Do Is Dream of You works surprisingly well with such a cosmopolitan arrangement, as does the stripped-down Ray Noble big band hit Goodnight Sweetheart. The early Ellington hit Just Squeeze Me nails the coyness of the theme. There’s also a wary reinterpretation of Bessie Smith’s Baby Won’t You Please Come Home and a dreamily surreal, bossa-tinged version of Key Largo. Here’s a random torrent.

May 29, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment