Date Posted: 2006-03-17
JOYCE BREACH- LIVE IN LONDON by Peter Vacher In a jazz world beset by corporate targets, electronic experimentation, and overlapping influences from other cultures, it`s all too easy to lose touch with time-honored, simpler virtues.
Take the music on this Joyce Breach CD as an example. What we have here is that most unadorned of situations, a solo singer recorded as she works, at ease with a series of rewarding songs, with a pianist who provides a supportive narrative that`s uniquely his own. Add a bassist to lay down the line and you have all the resources you need. No more and no less. Forget a glee club to cushion the vocal cadences or a phalanx of musicians to underpin and add color.Eschew finicky re-adjustments. Put aside any doctoring of the sound, or artificial overlays. What you heard and saw (if you were lucky enough to have been present at Pizza on the Park) is what you get on this disc.
And what if you were unable to be in London last June? Then this album is just about the next best thing to that in person experience. How often has it been said that recording is like being present at the event itself? And how many times have you been disembodied, a far cry from the immediacy achieved by audio engineer Dave Bennett on this, the first live album in Joyce Breach`s successful series on the Audiophile label. Pianist Keith Ingham, who`s a frequent Breach associate, says, "it`s not easy to do a live recording and Dave did a wonderful job. Pizza on the Park is a very good room acoustically and Dave makes you actually feel you are present at the performance."
American readers might like to know more about this "good room" which has now become the London home-away-from-home for Joyce Breach (she`s played there three times already) and other superior US song stylists like Barbara Lea, Marlene VerPlanck and the late, legendary Dardanelle. It`s a capacious basement, now named Larry`s Room as a tribute to the late harmonica ace Larry Adler, who appeared there often. There`s a Pizza Express restaurant on the ground floor and a forecourt that overlooks London`s finest public open space, Hyde Park. The Wellington Arch is nearby as is the boundary wall of Buckingham Palace, and the area is fringed by an imposing series of major hotels, many American-owned, including the magnificent Lanesborough which is adjacent. Still, all that cane seem far away when you descend the stairs to the room itself. It`s ambiance is sophisticated; the lighting discreet, the sight lines superb and audiences are always attentive. If any location in London can be said to parallel New York`s finest cabaret places, then it`s Larry`s Room at Pizza on the Park.
Now what, I wonder, can we tell you about Ms. Breach and her musical friends that you don`t already know? Joyce Breach is a native of Pittsburgh who moved to New York in the 1990s, after winning a substantial reputation in her hometown. She made her concert debut in the Big Apple in Fall1992 at the Mabel Mercer Foundation Cabaret Convention in Town Hall and has kept good company ever since. She`s an award- winner (the MMF Cabaret Classic Award in 2002 and successive MAC awards) and is widely known as an accomplished interpreter of classic American popular songs. She has appeared at the famed Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel, the Russian Tea Room, and the Firebird Cafe. She`s a stalwart of the Jazz at Noon series held regularly in St. Peter`s Church in New York where her usual co-worker is Keith Ingham, whose contributions help to make the present album so memorable.
A British-born import to the American scene, Ingham is a consummate jazz pianist and musicologist who has immersed himself in the history of American musical theatre. Born in 1942, this Oxford languages graduate cut his teeth musically with the best local traditional and mainstream musicians, before becoming the accompanist to the fine US vocalist Susannah McCorkle then living in London. When she returned to the States, Ingham packed his bags and made his way to New York as well. Once there, he worked with the singer Maxine Sullivan, appeared with Benny Goodman, arranged and played on Peggy Lee`s final album, and what`s more, toured with the World`s Greatest Jazz Band. Ingham`s bandstand companion this time is bassist Simon Woolf, a Londoner (born 1954) much in demand for jazz sessions and a respected teacher too, who ensures that his ample technique is always subordinated to the needs of the musical situation in which he finds himself.
The first words on the album come from the avuncular pianist and Larry`s Room host Simon Becker, as he introduces Joyce Breach and sets in train an evening of fine music. Anyone new to Ms. Breach`s vocal presentations will be struck, as I was, by her confident projection and innate musicality; this lady knows her stuff, as we say in England. There`s a hint of vulnerability, too, which counterpoints the cheery warmth of her treatment of the more upbeat songs in this program. Her slightly husky sound can make you think of the late Rosemary Clooney, and like that diverting performer, she shares a delight in lyric clarity, ensuring that every word is enunciated cleanly and the song`s original emphasis is retained. As reviewer Elizabeth Ahlfors put it, "She has an ear for finding quality songs and a voice for delivering them." Amen to that.
Whoever found There`s No Such Thing as the Next Best Thing To Love is to be commended, that`s for sure. It`s a swinger, first heard in the Sandra Dee movie, "Gidget," but rarely performed, more`s the pity. After the theme, Ingham opens up in rousing fashion before Ms. Breach returns and takes it out. Another movie piece, It Might As Well Be Spring, a masterpiece written by the A-team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for "State Fair" in 1945, follows, its soaring nobility amply conveyed by the singer. Note her use of space and the restraint of her delivery, with just enough vibrato to support the song‚ ôs emotional core. Wool`s carefully placed notes and Ingham`s calm accompaniment add their own value. This is quality music by any measure.
Feather in the Breeze, a 1930`s number, is from "Collegiate," a Betty Grable picture, and again it has a lilt all its own, Woolf`s bass part a a key factor in its success. If I`m Lucky is yet another movie piece, a measured ballad by Joseph Myrow (best known for You Make Me Feel So Young) . Destination Moon is a rarity: "A 1950 song, when space travel was a popular topic," according to Ingham, who should know, before adding, "No artifice, no gimmicks and no cute Betty Boop stuff." Ms. Breach echoes his assessment as she tackles I Hadn`t Anyone Till You by Ray Noble, a British bandleader who found fame in the States. Simon Woolf sits out for Room 504, a tale of fleeting, wartime romance, the lyrics by Eric Maschwitz better known, perhaps, for These Foolish Things and A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.
The mood changes with a discovery, a song by the celebrated jazz star Gerry Mulligan, written with his partner Judy Holliday and intended for a putative Broadway show. Ingham and Woolf play an opening motif that echoes the song`s main melody, before the singer takes it forward and Ingham plays a spirited solo.
that hymn to lost love, Too Late Now, follows, Ms. Breach`s vocal line elegant and heartfelt, the accompaniment spare and understated. ėBabes on Broadway," a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney movie vehicle, included the perky How About You, always a favorite with audiences. More so when the verse is included, as here, before Breach moves into that clever courtship lyric and her musicians go for swing.
What a master melodist Hoagy Carmichael was! Try his Heart and Soul, sung with delightful subtlety, ahead of Sell Me, a piece made popular by the singer`s singer, Mabel Mercer. All too soon, Ms. Breach dips into her compendium of great love songs for the last time, creating a final sequence that`s guaranteed to leave wanting more. Sammy Cahn and Jimmy VanHeusen, another dream team, wrote Incurably Romantic in 1959, and our headliner treats it like a freshly-minted composition. Two for the Road is wistful and yearning, a template for a new relationship. "That`s a lovely song," says Ms. Breach and she`s spot on.
Harry Warren`s Someone Like You is livelier, love on the wing, and featured in the Doric Day film "My Dream is Yours" then it`s You‚ ôre Dangerous, from the
1941 Crosby-Hope extravaganza "The Road to Zanzibar." No need for any comic business here, for this is an eloquent ballad, beautifully interpreted by Joyce Breach and her accompanists, who then take us out with The Curtain Falls, originally conceived as a closer for Bobby Darin`s stage act.
And there you have it. Seventeen songs, the majority from Hollywood`s heyday.
What a treasure- house of melody and what a singer! No wonder Joyce Breach
is so much cherished in her homeland. And increasingly in Britain, too.
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