NY Cabaret Review by Alix Cohen
In a Woody Allen film, Eric Comstock’s brain would be a cavernous library of music, lyrics, and historical anecdote manned by an army of specialists. Information sent though pneumatic tubes would be assembled on the ground floor by a short, nervous man in black rimmed glasses who shaped it into informative and entertaining repartee. Having mastered his duties, said facilitator would amuse himself by peppering Comstock’s numbers with musical phrases from songs other than the melody being played, then idly wonder who noticed how cleverly these were integrated. The actor playing Comstock would, of course, be unaware of what goes on in his head. Modestly, he would behave as if this addendum to musicianship was nothing out of the ordinary-about which the facilitator would grouse.
Eric Comstock’s talent as historian/raconteur, while glimpsed in scripted shows, is given full purview in an environment such as Café Noctambulo. Without a raised stage, the artist makes us feel as if we’re at an informal party in a private living room. His sets (I stayed for two) cover an extremely wide variety of musical material with signature style and infectious pleasure.
Casual swing is represented by such as “It All Depends on You,” which despite being jaunty, never loses its lyrical meaning and by “The More I See You,” conjuring a graceful, Astaire-like tap, yet remaining the love song its authors penned. Many vocalists trade tempo for intention. Comstock does not.
Ervin Drake’s “A Room Without Windows” winks in the musician’s capable hands as do insouciant versions of “Why Go Anywhere At All?” (Howard Dietz/ Arthur Schwartz) and “Love Isn’t Born, It’s Made” (Schwartz/Loesser). Clarity of both vocal and piano is stellar.
“She’s a Latin From Manhattan” (Harry Warren/Al Dubin) exemplifies a genre Comstock calls “Let’s go south of the border and get laid.”Though she does a rumba for us/And she calls herself Dolores/She was in a Broadway chorus… Replete with rolled r and eyebrows drawn to the occasional peak, the choice is inspired by a recent TCM Betty Grable festival. Its inclusion underlines the freshness of this appearance.
Ballad highlights include a beautifully arranged and paced rendition of “Tonight,” sung with wonder, and a meditative “Skylark” during which the piano itself seems to sigh. “Is There Anyone There?,” a Charles DeForest song with which I’m unfamiliar, is haunting. Comstock manifests deep resignation without going overboard. His restraint is melancholy and elegant.
Towards the end of the second set, “beloved colleague” Mark Nadler is invited to the piano from the audience. Nadler excavates the ersatz road trip song “Entering Marion” for every bit of innuendo its lyricist imagined. An ebullient duet follows. What begins four handed evolves to a round robin as each artist sits, plays, then literally circles the piano to reappear at his partner’s side. Midway through one route, Nadler begins tap dancing among tables with enough breakneck energy to run end of summer air conditioners throughout the neighborhood. “Somebody Loves You” may never have had such a good time.
Comstock’s wife and frequent collaborator, Barbara Fasano, then joins him onstage for a pair of Jimmy Van Heusen songs and a diverting “As Long As I Live” with short, sassy phrasing. The couple decode creative symbiosis. Each makes the other look even better-not to mention inevitably warming the room.
A smoky, Russianesque interpretation of “All of You” from Cole Porter’s Silk Stockings caps the set. “No evening of music would be complete without something from The Don Ameche Songbook,” Comstock quips, citing the original cast member.
Time spent with the talented, affectation free Eric Comstock is always enjoyable; to hear him draw from his wellspring of plumy stories (if I shared them here, this piece would be a page longer) constitutes whipped cream and a cherry.
Café Noctambulo at Pangea should become a go-to destination for quality music. Run by vocalist Christopher Gines who knows what a cabaret room should be, the space is comfortable and uncrowded with not a single bad sightline. Acoustics are excellent. Staff is attentive. The food (we dined) is excellent.
Check out their upcoming schedule: www.cafenoctambulo.com
Every Tuesday night at
Café Noctambulo at Pangea
178 2nd Avenue (bet 11th & 12th Sts)
September 2, 2014