Torchbearers of musical sophistication and style, Eric Comstock, bassist Sean Smith, and vocalist Barbara Fasano are holding court at Birdland Theater Saturdays in September. Remind yourself what veteran taste and talent looks like onstage.
Comstock’s piano is so symbiotic with his singing you’d think they share breath. Song approach is thoughtful and understated, embellished by a pause, small gesture, or momentary closing of his eyes- tonight more so than usual. Fasano is physically expressive, her whole body coursing with energy and exuberance, phrasing, personal. Longtime collaborator Smith weaves under and through organically texturizing.
Duke Ellington/Paul F. Webster/Sid Kuller’s iconic “Jump for Joy” is hap, hap, happy. “I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart” (Duke Ellington/Henry Nemo) arrives an eeeeaze tap tempo. “Mam’selle” (Edmund Goulding/Mack Gordon) is slow dance wistful with an appealing instrumental. “I am in all likelihood Eric Comstock…” welcomes the audience in the musician’s inimitable tone. Comstock’s selections are brief and varied; some, as usual, unexpected.
“Two from the only Nobel Laureate to come from Hibbing, Minnesota (Bob Dylan)” are “If Not For You” and “Make You Feel My Love.” Even if you’re familiar with these (I was not), you likely won’t recognize what was recorded as “easy listening.” The first – chord-centric, emphatic piano and cool, steady bass – was a hit for Olivia Newton John. The second-a pretty, country club foxtrot – for Adele: I’d go hungry, I’d go black and blue/I’d go crawling down the avenue/No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do/To make you feel my love.
A chipper “My Personal Property” (Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields from Sweet Charity) and “Manhattan” (Richard Rodgers/ Lorenz Hart) couples with Gene DePaul/Johnny Mercer’s laconic “If I Had My Druthers” riding rhythmic percussion. This is an upbeat show, not Pollyanna aggressive, but rather positive and grateful.
Barbara Fasano enters for a jazz-colored duet of “Love Like Ours” (Dave Grusin/ Alan and Marilyn Bergman) and “Friends” (Stephen Sondheim), which together feel like a melodic hug. “I’m so pleased to be here with Sean Smith who I love like a brother and Eric Comstock who I love like a husband,” Fasano quips. (She and Comstock are in fact married.) During a carbonated “Give Me the Simple Life,” the vocalist all but dances. “It’s the simple things we need so much more now than we ever did,” she comments in a moment of gravitas.
Highlights this evening include Sean Smith’s original composition “I Don’t Recall” which cries out for lyrics. I imagined a man denying he missed his love while conjuring particularly specific memories. It’s simply lovely. And Fasano’s “Fields of Gold” (Sting) which begins a capella with bowed bass. Ardent, honest sentiment is embraced by an unembellished arrangement. Quiet vibrato is haunting.
Quoting Walt Whitman “…Give me interminable eyes! give me women! give me comrades and lovers by the thousand!/Let me see new ones every day!…the trio offers “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” (Jerry Herman from Hello, Dolly!) and “Broadway” (Teddy McRae/Bill Bird/Henri Wood), separately and in counterpoint duet. It’s an appreciation of the city, an encouragement to get out and BE here.
An eclectic Irving Berlin selection, “Waiting at the End of the Road” continues that theme: The rain may fall from above/But I won’t stop cause the ones I love/ Will be waiting at the end of the road. Performed as casual swing, its lyrics seem anthemic. The artists close with “Call Me Back” (Franklin Underwood/Stan Freeman) and “Applause, Applause” (Burton Lane). We leave smiling.