The Iridium is jam-packed with civilian and professional fans alike. It buzzes as people climb over one another to greet, hug, and catch up with friends and industry acquaintances. Terese Genecco is liked, admired, and respected by her peers. Anticipation is palpable.
This is my fourth Genecco show, the third as a reviewer. She delivers as unconditional a performance as I’ve ever experienced. Galvanizing stage presence seems second nature, patter feels genuine. Vocals are fresh-water clear and skillfully controlled. Sharp, tight movement punctuates. None is gratuitous. Born too late for The Rat Pack itself, Genecco emulates its style with conviction and panache. South American rhythms, always part of a set, are Copacabana worthy.
Opening with a rousing “It Had Better Be Tonight” (Meglio Stasera), the artist and band declare themselves 150% present. As one, we sit up and smile. Next comes a rendition of Cole Porter’s “What is This Thing Called Love,” so forceful, it’s robbed of lyrical meaning. Her favorite Dean Martin tune, “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Sammy Kahn) and Mel Torme’s evergreen “Swingin’ on the Moon,” songs I’ve heard Genecco perform before with high spirited, bouncy ease are tonight both presented at the same overly insistent level.
Part of the issue here and, unfortunately, throughout the show, is the choice of almost consistently up-tempo, brass-blaring arrangements so similar they feel, as a group, monochromatic. There’s no relief during this show, no softer, less dense, mid tempo numbers; little opportunity to emote/empathize with lyrics. Unfortunately, this is compounded by a volume one is rarely subjected to except at rock concerts and a lack of sound balance drowning out all but the most robust guest artists.
Writer, pianist Bill Zeffiro (on left in photo above) rises from the audience to accompany his own song “Universal Truth” stating Every man’s a schmuck when he’s in love. A clever number, garnering recognition laughter from the audience, the song leads Genecco down a welcome half notch in shading. The very fine “Drunk With Love” (Stoughton “Bruz” Fletcher) showcasing phrasing finesse, begins accompanied by only Barry Levitt’s piano. I hope it will stay unencumbered, these two musicians are more than up to carrying a song, but the band comes in shortly, though mercifully not at full throttle. On two other occasions, arrangements begin with only Tom Hubbard’s superb bass. Each time, I long for an entire number with just two immensely capable artists.
Guest artist Robert Hicks (above right) offers a Spanish song that appears attractively crooned- from what I can hear. He has a cottony voice good with the material. Hick’s version of “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” (Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein), however, is arranged in direct opposition to the lyric. Performed demonstratively, utilizing a musical genre in which it seems unlikely anyone would even know what a surrey is, let alone, appreciate what a surrey is, creates only dissonance.
“Learnin’ the Blues” (Deloris Vicki Silvers), a duet with guest artist Nicolas King (below right), also suffers from performance in opposition to lyric. Genecco is not only aware of this, but repeatedly admonishes King “don’t be happy” despite being culpable herself. The two sing well together. Their pleasure is infectious. King’s seasoned instrument (in his 20s!) and comfortable stage persona is evident. Practically clowning during a song of this nature simply doesn’t work though. A better choice would’ve been a more successful crowd pleaser.
“Cuando Vuelva a Tu Lado” (Maria Grever) sung by guest artist Shaynee Rainbolt (above, left) , is a perfect opportunity for quiet and subtlety. Rainbolt’s vocals glide with the material. Her breathy inflection is appealing, the low key performance excellent. Except that I can barely hear her above the band.
The showstopper is unquestionably a version of “Frankie and Johnny” arranged by Daniel Fabricant based on Russell Garcia’s tumultuous 1956 composition. A long, meaty number, the song starts sweet and lowdown gradually becoming almost Gershwinesque in its musical exploration of dramatic material. Genecco is fabulous, at one point executing a growl that seems to come up from her knees. The band excels. “Unchain My Heart” (Bobby Sharp) with Genecco on drums, is rockin’ rhythm and blues. (More of this please).
While I remain a fan of the talented Genecco & Her Little Big Band I’m perplexed at Tuesday’s show. Having completed this review, I’m listening to the CD (Terese Genecco & Her Little Big Band Live From The Iridium) which has many of the songs I heard live—all of which fare better—as well as others which vary musical coloration. (“Frankie and Johnny” is a wow the second time around as well). The CD works, not because of manipulated engineering, but rather because of performance choices. It’s a really good, lively listen
The Little Big Band is comprised of high level, talented musicians one and all.
Terese Genecco Photos by Karin Kohlberg
Terese Genecco & Her Little Big Band
3-Year Anniversary & CD Release Show
Terese Genecco, Vocals
Nathan Childers-Tenor Sax
1650 Broadway at 51st Street
Terese Genecco & Her Little Big Band play at The Iridium once a month. Check calendar for dates.