By Don Heckman
Singer Patty Peterson made one of her rare Southland appearances Wednesday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. in Bel Air. And, not surprisingly, the broad vowel sounds of Minnesota-speak were heard throughout the enthusiasic audience. Why? Because the tall, raven-haired Peterson belongs to Minneapolis’s First Family of Music, whose various siblings, cousins and offspring can be heard with groups reaching across the full musical spectrum. No wonder L.A.’s Minnesota contingent turns out whenever one of the Petersons is in town to sing or play.
Solidly backed by the responsive musical support of pianist Lou Forestieri, bassist Pat Senatore, drummer Jimmy Branley and, yes, cousin Tom Peterson on saxophones, Patty offered a show dedicated to a program of classics from the Great American Songbook. And made the most of it.
Blessed with a sturdy voice, a storyteller’s sense of phrasing and a buoyant rhythmic swing, she delivered many of her numbers in larger than life interpretations. Opening with a lyrical take on the verse to “Gypsy In My Soul,” accompanied solely by the sensitive piano work of Forestieri, she then dug into a brisk, grooving romp through the familiar melody, announcing the spirited vitality that would energize the balance of her set.
Other classics received similarly upbeat treatment: a high speed rendering of “I Want To Be Happy” and — surprisingly — equally upbeat, rhythmically driven versions of “Time After Time” and “Nature Boy.” In each case, Patty made the songs her own, often soaring through musically evocative, blues-tinged paraphrases of such well-known melodies as “Love For Sale” and “Just In Time.”
In contrast, a pair of Michel Legrand songs — “I Will Wait For You,” from his gorgeous score for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life?” written with the Bergmans — stimulated more intimate, more richly layered interpretations. And the results represented some of the evening’s most memorable numbers.
In fact, if there was anything missing from this otherwise entertaining program, it was the presence of a larger portion of similarly intimate musical moments — moments like those on her new CD, The Very Thought of You. Patty can — and did — energize a room with her high-spirited, big-voiced, take-no-prisoners command of the American Songbook. And I’ll bet a similar approach works well on a chilly Minneapolis night.
But on a warm, L.A. evening, more diversity in her interpretations would have made a difference. Given the rarity of Patty Peterson’s Southland appearances, one couldn’t help but wish for an opportunity to experience a more far-reaching view of the full, expressive vistas of this talented songstress.