A Memorable Show at Birdland
by Alix Cohen
Sometimes a musical recipe is just right. At a time when the world situation depresses and frightens, three uber-talented collaborators deliver an exuberant, stress free show at Birdland and boy does it feel good! Apparently at the suggestion of Jim Caruso, vocalists Aisha de Haas and “bestie” Capathia Jenkins joined with masterful MD/arranger/ pianist/ vocalist Billy Stritch to present Stritch, Trouble and More Trouble. Rarely have I seen a greater balance of technique and artistry. That the stage exudes mutual affection and respect is like a cherry on top.
This evening features ballads, swing and r & b performed in various artist combinations. Stritch’s phrasing for “Haven’t We Met” (Kenny Rankin) is as natural as breathing, voice and demeanor unabashedly happy. Later, his rendition of “Comes Love” (Sam H. Stept/Lew Brown/Charles Tobias) arrives stealthy with a Fosse-tipped fedora and a wink. Distinctive piano interpretation is precise and imaginative without eschewing melody. Stritch can do that.
Capathia Jenkins’s “The Way We Were” (Marilyn and Alan Bergman) floats in wounded. Arms rise and descend as if inflated and disappointed as the story reflects. “I Got Love” (Gary Geld/ Peter Udell from Purlie), dedicated to her new husband, is the flip side. The lady performs with bust-a-gusset, open-throated, timbre-flexing joy (and she can mooove).
“Now or Never” (Billie Holiday) sashays with at-ti-tude from Aisha de Haas. Hips bounce, palms open, fingers spread…Gonna call you once more on the telephone/I’ll give you till twelve then I’ll be gone…she warns with utter credibility. “You’ll See” (Carroll Coates) is a slow dance. De Haas massages notes and slip/slides octaves with unerring instinct. “I was tryin’ not to sit over there and chair dance too hard,” quips Jenkins.
Celebrating songs of the 1970s- “Don’t act like you weren’t there” we’re playfully admonished, the trio performs “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Nickolas Ashford/Valerie Simpson), “Where Is the Love?”(Ralph MacDonald/ William Salter), and “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” (Carole King/Gerry Goffin.) The first is a surging river of infectious spirit, the second, a warm cha-cha set in harmony Heaven, the third, a robust anthem from two proud, savvy women who support one another and an MD handling crosscurrents with brio.
The women are terrific whether joking through patter or in tuneful counterpoint. “Does He Love You?” (Billy Stritch/Sandy Knox) is a conversation between wife and mistress. Starting with their backs to one another as lyric dictates, both actresses sell anger, frustration and pain. Turning towards each other, sparks fly. The terrific chorus goes: Does he love you/Like he’s been lovin’ me?…Not, like he loves me. A notable difference. Their version of “I Know Him So Well” (Benny Andersson/ Bjõrn Ulvaeus from Chess) buoyed by Stritch’s overlapping/ echoing vocal arrangement is beautiful.
This evening’s encore, “Happy Days Are Here Again”/”Get Happy,” is a stroll. (Milton Ager/ Jack Yellen; Ted Köhler/Harold Arlen) De Haas and Jenkins sway in attractive tandem. The song is rich and full. Tonight, perhaps, something like a prayer.
Photos by Steve Friedman
Monday November 14, 2016 Birdland Jazz
With Michael O’Brian-Bass and Warren Odze