Love on a Summer Afternoon: Songs of Sam Davis [PS Classics PS-1095]
In an age where opportunities for the production of new musical theatre work by emerging composers is minimal, it can be a daunting task to keep track of the newest crop of young songwriters. They exist, of course; we know their names, and we occasionally hear a song or two on a personality CD or in a cabaret. But random hearings of random songs do not provide a representative hearing. One of these guys is Sam Davis, pit pianist (and associate conductor) for the recent Kander & Ebb musical Curtains. Rebecca Luker chose his song "Greenwich Time" as the title track for her CD last year; it was a song so good that I, for one, immediately noted the composer's name.
The people at PS Classics, which produced Luker's album, were similarly impressed; so much so that they invited Davis to record a full album of his work. "Love on a Summer Afternoon: Songs of Sam Davis" is the title, and it sure serves its purpose. Mr. Davis is a fine theatre composer, even though we haven't had the chance to hear any of his theatrical scores. Fourteen songs, apparently drawn from several musicals; after listening to the CD three times, I want to hear ten of the tracks repeatedly. That's a remarkably high percentage.
The songs are mostly personal, with common themes. This is something you might expect from a composer/lyricist, or even a lyricist; how odd, though, to have this similar voice coming in songs from six different lyricists. Sean Hartley leads the pack, with six entries that are apparently from the revue Dysfunctional Fables. (The liner notes don't offer much information.) These include "Goodbye to Boston," a highly effective song sung by David Hyde Pierce; "The Cookie Boy," a morality tale sung by — get this — Kevin Chamberlin, Danny Burstein, Jim Stanek, and Davis; "Everything," an enthusiastically upbeat ballad (Aaron Lazar); "Land of the Dead," a very good song indeed (Christian Anderson); and the tart "Love and Real Estate" (Edward Hibbert). Mark Waldrop provides lyrics for four songs, including the touching "The Boy He Wanted Me to Be" (Michael Arden) and the swinging "Love Is a Chance You Take" (Malcolm Gets). Georgia Stitt, an intriguing composer herself, provides the lyric for "Invested in You"; Bobby Steggert sings this sprightly Rodgers & Hart-like song, in which Ms. Stitt talks of living on "bread and pickles." Two of the finest tracks have lyrics by Randy Buck: the aforementioned "Greenwich Time," here sung by Gavin Creel, and the similarly effective "Love on a Summer Afternoon" (Philip Chaffin).
I haven't stopped at each song to say this singer or that does a good job, which would be repetitive and redundant. They all do; this recording seems to have been a holiday for theatre singers (of the male variety). Also on the recording, and doing equally well, are Will Swenson, Christopher Sieber, Michael McElroy, Tituss Burgess, Will Chase, and Jason Danieley. PS has given Mr. Davis a band of 25; they have also seen fit to call in a handful of orchestrators — Jonathan Tunick, Larry Blank, Larry Hochman, August Eriksmoen, Ned Ginsburg — who have contributed refreshingly good work. Five of the charts come from Davis himself. This "emerging composer" is quite a talent. Now if only he could find a theatre or two to produce some of his shows.
Michael Feinstein: Fly Me to the Moon [Duckhole Records DR-3083]
Michael Feinstein has over the years worked his way to a big band, Sinatra-styled sound, the better to fill snazzy nightclubs or spacious concert halls. In "Fly Me to the Moon," which seems to be something like his 30th CD, he cuts back down to his simpler self. Feinstein purrs — rather than croons — songs of the night more fitting for a cozy living room with a glass of wine or a snifter of brandy, by the crackling fireplace. This is singing for an audience of one or two — rather than 100 or 1,000 — and it makes for Feinstein's loveliest album in years. No John Oddo here, John Oddo being Feinstein's expert musical director/arranger. Just Michael and featured guitarist Joe Negri, backed by Jay Leonhart on bass and Joe Cocuzzo on drums. The results are lovely; this is an album that you will probably want to play over and over. Feinstein being Feinstein, top songwriters are represented. But Feinstein being Feinstein, the selections are for the most part lesser known songs, here revealing themselves to be as worthy as standards.
This is true night music; just about all of the songs talk of the night, the moon or dreams of one sort or the other. Bart Howard's "Fly Me to the Moon" and Cole Porter's "So in Love" are relatively well known, and the Arlen-Mercer "This Time the Dream's on Me" has long been a favorite of mine. There are obscurities by the likes of Porter ("Why Shouldn't I"), Styne ("Blame My Absent-Minded Heart"), and Hammerstein ("A Mist Is Over the Moon"); atmospheric pieces like Jobim's "Meditation" and Leroy Anderson's "Serenata"; and one-time hits that have been misplaced over the years, like Warren's "I Wish I Knew" and the lovely Burke-Van Heusen "It Could Happen to You." Also the Comden-Green-Bernstein "Lonely Town" performed in a contemplative manner with the rhythm all but removed, which sounded odd on the first hearing but wonderful thereafter.
We won't say that Michael Feinstein has here returned to his roots, because these are not his roots. I mean, there's not even a piano in sight. Just that pure voice, singing for you in the still of the moonlit, dreamy night.
Fans of soundtracks — soundtracks of incidental music, that is — might be interested in something new from Sony Masterworks. Something new that's old, actually; six LPs from the RCA Red Seal "Classic Film Score" series of the 1970s have now been released on CD. These were recorded in stereo by conductor Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic Orchestra using original orchestrations, to especially good effect. The Sea Hawk: The Classic Film Scores of Erich Wolfgang Korngold [RCA Red Seal 88697 77932] has always been my favorite of these, with selections from 12 different films (including that merry olde march from "Robin Hood.") Other items include "Captain from Castile: Classic Film Scores of Alfred Newman"; "Lost Horizon: Classic Film Scores of Dmitri Tiomkin"; "Gone with the Wind"; "Captain Blood: Classic Film Scores for Errol Flynn"; and "Casablanca: Classic Film Scores for Humphrey Bogart." Lots of rousing movie music here. One of the all-time great movie music scores was written far from Hollywood: Sergei Prokofiev's "Alexander Nevsky." Prokofiev's Cantata drawn from this score is included on Dallas Symphony Orchestra: The Eduardo Mata Years [Dorian DSL-92109]. Readers of this column are not, I suppose, accustomed to purchasing symphonic recordings, but this six-CD set provides several especially interesting items at a relatively low price. "Nevsky" is superb; the 13-minute "Battle on Ice," alone, is startlingly good. We also get Bernstein's Suite from "On the Waterfront." In the non-cinematic field come two ballets, Copland's "Billy the Kid" and Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps," plus Shostakovich's massive "Leningrad" Symphony. Sure, the classical music collector already has recordings of these titles. I picked this one up specifically to hear the "Alexander Nevsky," and am quite pleased with most of the 14 included works.
(Steven Suskin is author of the updated and expanded Fourth Edition of "Show Tunes" as well as "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble" and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He can be reached at Ssuskin@aol.com.)
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