The New York Pops season finale paid tribute to a swathe of songwriters from the last 60 years. After an instrumental Beatles medley, we hear pop, country/folk and r & b songs performed by tonight’s four Broadway veterans: Will Chase, Christopher Jackson, Jessie Mueller, and Adrienne Warren. Each performer has his or her moments to shine.
Chris Jackson- no surprise- has a real feel for R & B. Al Kooper’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” showcases a moody warble and the squeeze/push of expression best employed for the genre. His tenor slides up as if greased. Wah-wah horns and an alto sax carry the number. Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” emerges less gritty than usual, but soulful. Jackson’s movements are tight, as if jerked by the impact of certain lyrics. He exudes cool.
Jessie Mueller’s genuinely original arrangement of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” (Elton John/Bernie Taupin) is the highlight of the evening. One of several songs tonight whose treatment by The Pops is as subdued as I’ve ever heard them, it begins with only piano and Mueller’s pure, plaintive vocal. Strings come in; phrasing is elongated emphasizing wistful lyrics. This one resonates. Mueller also inhabits “Both Sides Now” (Joni Mitchell) which arrives with palpable sensitivity. There’s a small, organic shrug on “…it’s cloud’s illusions I recall…” drawing us in. Her pristine voice wafts high or cottony. Solo cello embellishment is utterly lovely.
Will Chase delivers a robust “Ring of Fire” (June Carter/Merle Kilgore) as a hoedown with the taste of Mariachi brass. His Kentucky accent feels at home. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is uncluttered, rather thin, but sweet. I find this performer sincere, but stiff without the character direction he’s given in musicals.
Adrienne Warren, another r & b maven, unearths a sob in her voice as if it comes completely natural to her. Alicia Keys’s “If I Ain’t Got You” is straight from the hip. Warren literally leans into the lyric. “If I ain’t gotcha with me baybabahahahabeeee…” she sings. In Act II, the vocalist demonstrates range by offering an Adele song sung from her chest and one by Aretha which emerges from her throat. You can hear the interesting difference.
All the artists take vocal turns for Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” to which the audience immediately starts clapping time, a bouncy “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson), and Carol King’s iconic “You’ve Got a Friend,” an appropriate finale.
Songs, one gathers, were selected by vocalists without particular cohesion. The evening provided a raft of memories for some of us and a varied glimpse of the times for others.
Opening Photo: Chris Jackson, Jessie Mueller, Will Chase, Adrienne Warren
Carnegie Hall presents
The New York Pops
You’re Got a Friend: A Celebration of Singers and Songwriters
Steven Reineke- Musical Director/Conductor
April 21, 2017
34th Birthday Gala Tickets now on sale for May 1, 2017