Jeff Harnar’s I Know Things Now – My Life in Sondheim’s Words reached a level of originality and excellence one might assume would encourage the artist to step back awhile. Not Harnar. The Vocalist, again in collaboration with Alex Rybeck (outstanding arrangements and orchestrations), and several of his talented friends, now gifts us with A Collective Cy -Jeff Harnar Sings Cy Coleman. It’s tender, optimistic and often dancey. A genuine pleasure.
“It Amazes Me” (lyric Carolyn Leigh) emerges in duet with Sean Harkness’ shimmering guitar. Strings emit a warm, finely spun sound as if caressed. Harnar sustains soft notes without fraying. Longing is almost whispered, emphasis gentle. Dreamy alto sax prefaces “With Every Breath I Take” (lyric David Zippel) Cello is balletic. The song is fraught, but internalized. We hear the emotional wrench instead of volume.
Ann Hampton Callaway joins Harnar on “I’ve Got Your Number” (lyric Carolyn Leigh). A matey arrangement resembles old friends/lovers teasing one another. Callaway sings a parentheses of signature scat as if she can’t keep a giggle down. Voices hold hands. Bass rolls, piano sashays. Also in this vein, “A Doodlin’ Song (Doop-Doo-De-Doop)” (lyric Carolyn Leigh) features Jay Leonhart and MD Alex Rybeck on bass/piano and vocals. It’s an amiable soft shoe. Leonhart’s uber-low, punctuating “I Love You” made me laugh. There’s been little as deftly, simply cheerful since Paul Simon’s “Feeling Groovy.”
“Some Kind of Music” (lyric Carolyn Leigh) skips down a lane, maybe kicking a can. All I want in this world is some kind of music/That my heart can listen to and cheer might be Harnar’s mantra. “kiiiind” is extended. A flute catches the breeze like a paper plane.
Nicolas King (vocals) and Danny Bacher (vocals and soprano sax) add buoyancy to “Rhythm of Life” (lyric Dorothy Fields). The head-bobbing, foot-tapping song is configured so that voices overlap in a kind of freewheeling gospel spirit. Spritzed flute becomes a fourth voice. Bacher’s sax dances. King scats. Everything bubbles up grinning.
“So Little Time” (lyric by Michael Stewart) engages in rueful recollection. Lovely cello and light flute evoke faded photographs, broken souvenirs. Harnar delivers lyrics like tremulous, melodic sighs. He’s believable. Liz Callaway’s inviting voice begins “Our Private World” (lyric Betty Comden and Adolph Green). Satin vocal floats above undulating piano. Harnar knits in and the two seamlessly braid lyrics. Piano is classical, serene.
One might dance a late night foxtrot to this version of “Witchcraft” (lyric Carolyn Leigh). Piano is muted; vocal gauzy; image grainy. The scene fades with Harnar’s high tenor. It does, in fact, haunt. His medley of “The Rules of the Road,” “Come Summer” (both lyrics by Carolyn Leigh) and “I’m Way Ahead” (lyric Dorothy Fields) creates a story. Initial movement, wheels below, a bird’s eye view above, feels like running away. Pause to reconsider elicits determination to heal. Finally, hope flowers. Harnar often slides this kind of thing under the radar. Be aware.
The last song is an epilogue. Instead of singing the bouncy “If My Friends Could See Me Now” (lyric Dorothy Fields), Harnar invokes the thought with a few earnest lyrics.
Musicianship and engineering are terrific.