New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series continued with its 10th presentation at New York’s Metropolitan Room Monday night, a revival of Barbara Porteus 2013 show, Up On the Roof. Spanning 40 years of pop, it also includes one country and a couple of jazz-tinted interpretations.
Like the original version, Porteus is here accompanied by three guitars – no piano: Musical Director/Arranger/Lead Guitar-Jack Cavari, Larry Saltzman, and Zev Katz. Though the musicians are first rate, only a few numbers successfully lend themselves to this choice.
Were one to select the most defining quality of Porteus’s performance, it might be the artist’s ability to put her whole self into a song without ever straining a vocal, unnecessarily raising volume, or becoming fussy. Nor does delivery wobble. Phrasing is smooth, often honeyed. Octave changes are fluid and subtle.
While the show’s title song (by Carole King) is pretty, to my mind, except for a romantic bossa nova rendition of Melody Gardot’s “If the Stars Were Mine,” the show doesn’t kick in until after a lengthy Beatles medley comprised of song snippets, most of which sound thin.
“Unwell” (Matchbox Twenty/Rob Thomas), “Twisted” (Wardell Gray/Annie Ross), and “Help Me” (Joni Mitchell) create a kind of contemporary, crazy suite. Though less overt expression would serve, (rolling eyes and draping oneself leads to diminishing returns), jazz undulations are skillfully handled. Vocally difficult material arrives sensitive and pristine.
Barbara Porteus, Larry Saltzman
“Someone Like You” (Adele/Dan Wilson), a song where a woman tells her ex she can’t let go, is theatrically adept. Here, we empathize with the singer. Whether this has personal meaning or no, the artist makes it seem as if it does.
One of the best musical arrangements emerges with John Mayer/Pino Palladfino’s “Stop This Train.” Buoyed by sweetly percussive country rhythm, Porteus’s gravitas is filled with yearning. One can close one’s eyes, reflect, and ride. Stop this train/I want to get off and go home again/I can’t take the speed it’s moving in/I know I can’t/But, honestly, won’t someone stop this train?…
We finish with a quotation from the film Monkey Business, “You’re only old when you forget to be young.” Though the show’s “recollection of her youth through adulthood,” drops its subject early on, the aphorism aptly bookends. “The Secret of Life” (James Taylor) is simply lovely.
Photos by Stephen Hanks
Opening left to right: Barbara Porteus, Larry Saltzman, Jack Cavari, Zev Katz
Next Up for New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits:
Maureen Taylor: Taylor Made-Bob Merrill- July 13 7:00
The Metropolitan Room
34 West 22nd Street
Metropolitan Room Calendar
The 9th show in Stephen Hanks estimable New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series celebrates Laurie Krauz and Daryl Kojak’s 25 years of musical collaboration. “We’ve been working together since the world wide web went public,” she quips. It’s also a where-have-I-been-all-these-years revelation. Formidably talented, the duo, (with Sean Conly on bass and Gene Lewin, drums), represent a fortuitous coming together the universe doesn’t often facilitate.
Laurie Krauz channels her music from somewhere to which most of us will never have access. It courses through her body like electricity, shaped by palpable, tingling control; like a mesmerizing snake dance. By her side, Daryl Kojak taps into that same frequency, antennae up, responding.
A unique rendition of “Never Neverland” (Betty Comden/ Adolph Green/Jule Styne) emerges as gentle jazz with no loss of sentimental intention. In my experience, jazz interpretations of ballads mostly sacrifice meaning. Here, the duo manages to maintain this with grace. Piano sweeps of stardust, a bowed bass and circling brushes float a vocal which, deferring to the song’s purity, delivers barely an extra syllable.
Oscar Hammerstein II/Richard Rodgers’s iconic “Some Enchanted Evening” can here also be classified as jazz, yet emotionally communicates without getting sidetracked. Kojak’s piano keys sound like wind chimes. A drum is patted. It’s a black and white 40s film with curtains blown against an open French door. Dark, serious, evocative. Open-throated (open-hearted) singing is paired with tiptoeing accompaniment. The number exists like a snuffed candle, leaving whirls of smoke.
Even the chestnut “I Will Wait For You” (Norman Gimbel/English Lyric Michel Legrand) is given iconoclastic treatment. An exuberantly windy arrangement with sensuous, rhythmic drums feels like sirocco. Krauz sails up to oooing contralto and down to alto. I find myself dovening (rocking back and forth.)
The tandem “A House is Not a Home” (Burt Bachrach/Hal David) and “Since You Stayed Here” (Peter Larson/Josh Rubins), begins thoughtfully. Piano caresses. Krauz reaches deeply. I can feel her chest constrict, then fill with a sigh as she seems to recall. The second song, from the musical Brownstone, is an apt continuance…You’d never recognize the room/The pictures all have different frames now/All the chairs are rearranged now…it’s enacted without a flicker of artificiality. Bass acts as ballast.
“Send Me a Man,” (also YouTube Alberta Hunter’s 1935 recording) is saucy, playful Krauz in full Mae West mode. Symbiosis is never more apparent. Kojak plays a superb piano solo to which Krauz, hanging over the keyboard, reacts as if they’re having sex. “Oh yeah!.. that’s nice…YES!” No kidding. Not a word or moan is extraneous. This is a helluva thing to watch/hear. The vocalist moves as if compelled. Kojak breaks into burlesque honky-tonk, precise, but insinuating. FUN!
Several predominantly scat tunes show off Krauz’s skill and individuality with this kind of musicality. The best is Kokak’s own composition. “Ducksoup” which sounds a bit like a cool, Pink Panther theme. Krauz peppers and punctuates, progressing to an uncanny, mute-horn-like wah-wah. Closing her eyes, she bends, gestures, and squeezes out the vocal. We see a smoky back room, tilted fedoras, finessed hip movement. “Everybody sing!” And curiously we do-come in on a scat line, higgledy-piggeldy but grinning. Start/stops are like winks.
A warm, funny woman, Krauz tells us about her “first gig,” being paid a quarter by her father not to sing (she endlessly extemporized songs on family car trips) and shares her personal take on a Monica Lewinsky sighting back in the day that would have made a fine Saturday Night Live skit. My single caveat of this performance is that patter, though mostly entertaining, goes on too long.
“When you work closely with someone for 25 years, you become really good friends…” introduces a muscular version of “Here’s To Life” (Phyllis Molinary/Artie Butler) which is viscerally textured by experience and sincerity. The packed room erupts.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
The Metropolitan Room May 14, 2016
Next in the monthly series, New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits
Barbara Porteus- June 13, 7 p.m.