Devotees and newcomers alike will savour these 19 selections from the American Songbook. Soprano Amy Burton sails through the wide-ranging forms and styles with nearly perfect pitch, while baritone Patrick Mason displays power when needed and quiet introspection as wanted. Gluing everything together into a virtual, seamless whole is pianist John Musto whose tempi, touch and scintillating rhythms make the chestnuts seem like old friends in new clothes and the lesser-known fare come off like instant classics. Once again engineer extraordinaire Adam Abeshouse captures every note and word, ever mindful of maintaining a balance that favours the music ahead of the talented practitioners.
From the Gershwins comes a light and frothy “Fascinating Rhythm,” a “Little Jazz Bird” that shows just what a model of control Mason can be and how Musto artfully defines “swing”; “Embraceable You” is a real highlight as Mason delivers such lyrics as “silk and laceable you” with knowing aplomb, soon followed by Burton’s spot-on cut-up of the master’s (and himself!) contemporaries (along with a very fine quote from the “Laughing Song”) in “By Strauss” (here Musto has just the right weight for the slipped-in snippets from the Waltz King) and finally “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise” is wonderfully awash with the blues.
Irving Berlin’s contributions are “Lazy,” (where Mason’s word painting and Musto’s variety of tone—don’t miss the wee birdie—are superb), the Carmen-hued, ode to libations, “I’ll See You in C-U-B-A” (with flying triplets burning up the keyboard) and the second of a two-part discourse on loneliness, “What’ll I Do?” (the other being Richard Rodgers’/Lorenz Hart’s gently lilting, “It Never Entered My Mind”).
Also from Rodgers and Hart is one of the best examples of alliteration in the canon, “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered,” where Burton offers a beguiling rendition (contrasted with the purposely coy piano and a modulation that present-day composers ought to emulate) even as the line, Worship the trouser that clings to him, will bring smiles all around.
The remainder of the disc consists of one-offs from a variety of songsmiths.
From Fred Hersch and lyricist Norma Winstone comes “A Wish,” a vrai, deeply felt ballad centring on Valentine’s Day—Musto’s solo turn is exquisite. Cole Porter’s fanciful “Tale of the Oyster” is most welcome at the musical table; Burton is just as tasty in her storytelling of the delectable dish. “All Through the Day” (Jerome Kern teaming up with Oscar Hammerstein) is rendered with a fine sense of camaraderie from all three performers. The marvellously saucy “If You Talk in Your Sleep” by Nat Ayer and the lyrics of Seymour Brown is a delightful cautionary tale about involuntary bed talk—purely fictional, of course.
Musto ideally sets up the tone for the chorus in the not as well-known “Autumn in New York” (Vernon Duke music and lyrics) even as Burton renders the stick-in-your-craw tune and full-blooded bridge in a manner that demands an encore. Left to his own devices (Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You”), Musto serves up a beautifully voiced, heartfelt instrumental version of the much-loved song.
A truly dreamy atmosphere permeates the opening of Frank Loesser’s “Everybody Loves You When You’re Asleep,” before the three amigos ignite a compelling swing that can’t help but get all toes a tappin’. Sherman & Lewis join forces with songwriter Abner Silver resulting in an energizing “He’s so Unusual,” which allows Burton to demonstrate her considerable skills of characterization: “Wild” indeed!
What could be better than to close out this wide-ranging album than with “Faithful Forever” (Leo Robin, Ralph Rainger)? Like most of the Broadway shows that drink long and deep with work from the American Songbook, the final song is filled with the feeling of happily ever after. But rather than bring down the curtain on this talented troupe, here’s to the sequel: Got a Little More Rhythm—there’s a wealth of repertoire begging for this standard of faithful realization. JWR