We stopped by at Carolyn Montgomery's CD release party long enough to get in out of the rain and grab a cookie (okay, a couple of cookies) and a CD. The recording is titled after her recent cabaret act, Reveille, and listening to it made us sorry that we didn't see the entire show earlier this year; we caught part of it and liked it very much but never got back to see and hear what we had missed. Well, the CD is a gem: Beautifully balanced arrangements by Rick Leonard give Montgomery the ideal musical platform to express her personality in song. From the emotionally tortured "Isn't This Better" (Kander and Ebb) to the whimsical "Dim Little Way" (George Winters), her approach to the material bespeaks maturity, wisdom, and talent.
Another notable event was a concert by Lavender Light (the Black and People of All Colors Lesbian and Gay Gospel Chorus) at Town Hall with guest artist B.J. Crosby. A night of gospel songs before Christmas seemed fitting, even if show tunes might have been a more religious experience for us. The hearing impaired were treated, as was the rest of the audience, to some sensational, passionate signing that was almost as beautiful as the music.
More to our personal taste, diva Elena Bennett performed at Dillon's last Wednesday night, starting at about 11pm and continuing into the wee hours of Thursday morning. With her longtime collaborator Fred Barton at the piano, Bennett was joined by guest singers who go back with her (and with us) to those wonderful Tuesday nights at Eighty-Eights down on West 10th Street, where she used to hold musical court. Among those who came up to sing was Luis Villabon, who has risen from the ranks of singing waiters to become a highly respected singer-dancer-choreographer working for the likes of Debbie Allen and Paula Abdul. Villabon was thrilling but the stage ultimately belonged to Bennett who, even with a bad cold, has a presence that makes one wish she were singing in New York every night. This is the second time in several months that she has performed at Dillon's, inviting her friends and fans to join her in an informal evening of music-making; the next time we hear about one of these get-togethers, we'll let you know in advance so you can be there, too.
Sunday Jazz brunches are commonplace in Manhattan, but truly fine jazz musicians are not so commonplace. So we're going to tell you about a couple of performers you might want to break bagels with.
The Super Bowl of jazz brunches is the one in the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, featuring Barbara Carroll every Sunday at 2pm through January. An elegant and sophisticated jazz pianist, Carroll was long a fixture at the Bemelman's Bar in the Cafe Carlyle. Frankly, the Oak Room gig suits her better in that people here know they're supposed to pay attention to the music -- and boy, do they! Carroll glides through a mesmerizing set that includes engaging patter about the Oak Room's history. (Dorothy Parker was known to scribble the occasional song lyric, and Carroll sings one of her songs.) From high end jazz piano "arias" to playful riffs on "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," Carroll displays intelligence and a sense of humor at the keyboard; and she is all the more engaging when she occasionally stands up to sing, backed only by the great Jay Leonhart on bass. Carroll's work at the Oak Room defines New York City jazz -- and if brunch is too early for you, she repeats her show on Sundays at 8pm.
Jazz vocalist Susan Ellman is at the Stonewall Bistro on Sunday afternoons (and Tuesday nights, as well) through December, offering classics of the Great American Songbook as filtered through her classic jazz stylings. There is so much warmth in her voice that she'll make you feel downright toasty, and that's not a bad thing in December. Her approach to her material is fresh yet straightforward; there's a double bonus in that you'll always recognize the tune and always get the meaning of the lyrics. In this low-key, casual afternoon of mimosas and music, Ellman sings with an open-hearted joy.