Cleo Laine and John Dankworth
Cleo Laine and John Dankworth
Dame Cleo Laine & John Dankworth

(Feinstein's at The Regency)

What a night it was at Feinstein's! For starters, the band served up the cool jazz of "Macho Gazpacho" (Jim Zimmerman). Then came the main course: Dame Cleo Laine, who joined her husband/bandleader John Dankworth for a medley of tunes composed by Vincent Youmans. At the center of the medley was "Tea for Two" (lyrics by Irving Caeser), a fitting number for this husband and wife team who have performed together for the entire second half of the 20th century, beginning in 1951 (they were married in 1958).

Whether you like jazz or disdain it, there are certain performers who are so uniquely talented that they transcend the genre. Laine and Dankworth are among those rarified few. At once musically sophisticated and wholly accessible, their performances encompass composers as diverse as Jerome Kern and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and that mix makes for a rich, varied show that offers brilliance by the bar. Witness, for example, Laine scatting to Mozart; it's as audacious as it is astounding. She can take "St. Louis Blues" (W.C. Handy) and, with an original, hot-jazz arrangement by Dankworth, make the number unforgettable. With a supple voice that ranges from valley lows to mountain highs, Laine is still at the top of her talent.

Securing Laine's services was a phenomenal coup for Feinstein's, but this was only the first of several splashy bookings at this high-end hot spot; next up was (and is) the incomparable Dee Dee Bridgewater. Through the end of this week, Bridgewater is putting on a show at Feinstein's that will send you out of the room on a musical cloud. This bang-bang booking of two of the most dynamic jazz singers in the world is as eye-opening as it is misleading: Feinstein's is not a jazz club, but it is clearly a showcase for the music world's top acts. No wonder, then, that they wooed and won Barbara Cook from the Café Carlyle to appear for a month, beginning October 24. And, before Cook arrives, Feinstein's has enticed film star Polly Bergen to perform in cabaret for two weeks beginning October 10. (This is one of the most anticipated nightclub shows of the year.)

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Natalie Gamsu, Stranger
(The Oak Room)

The title of her current show is Stranger, but Natalie Gamsu is well known to cabaret audiences. This MAC Award-winning singer consistently stars in unique and sophisticated shows that will never be confused with run-of-the-mill club acts. Nor will her commanding voice ever be confused with that of a will-o-the-wisp chanteuse. When this lady rips boldly into a number, she opens it up and tells you what's inside.

Stranger is yet another ambitious show in which Gamsu occasionally overdoes the ethereal patter she employs to introduce each portion of her journey/cabaret act. If you get past the purple poetic images, which she herself later mocks, the songs she sings about outsiders will give you the inside track to exhilaration. Working with arguably the most creative musical director in New York, Ross Patterson, Gamsu puts over imaginative, fresh versions of "It Ain't Necessarily So" (the Gershwins), "Tenderness" (Jacques Brel), "and "Ancient Dust" (Edi Niederlander).

As you can see just from these three examples, the music comes from all over the world and represents many different musical idioms. During the course of the evening Gamsu sings in English, Yiddish, Spanish, Arabic, German, etc. How appropriate, then, that her show is part of The Second International Festival of Cabaret at the Algonquin Hotel's famous Oak Room. Her remaining solo show dates there are October 2 and 8, and she'll also be performing with Michel Hermon on the 16th, all at 9pm.