By Don Heckman
Sally Kellerman started her set Wednesday night at Vitello’s with a gesture toward the season. Stalking on stage in an all black outfit, she held up her cape and serenaded the packed house crowd with “I Put A Spell On You.” (All of which she enhanced by sitting in a director’s chair labeled “Live Virgin,” next to a plastic Jack-o-lantern on a stool.)
Predictably, for anyone who’s heard and seen Sally in action, “I PUt A Spell On You” perfectly indicated what would happen in the next hour and a half or so. Even when she’s not doing a mini-Halloween celebration, Sally’s performances are all utterly mesmerizing, overflowing with humor, atmosphere and musicality.
And this performance was no exception, despite the fact that she repeated some of the material that she’s been doing regularly over the past few years. But no problem there. Hearing (and seeing) Sally wrap up her set with “Don’t You Feel My Leg” is only one of the many pleasures she offers.
There were other repeated tunes: the combining of a pair of Bacharach/David hits, “Walk On By” and “The Look of Love”; “Love Potion #9”; “Sugar In My Bowl”; “The Lies of Handsome Men.” And there were more, including James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” and “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” rendered as Sally strolled seductively through the audience, dispensing foil-wrapped chocolate candy balls.
And what became crystal clear – in these repeated numbers, as well as such newer items in the Kellerman catalog as “Black Coffee” and the Hall & Oates “Say It Isn’t So” — was the utterly appropriate believability that Sally brought to each of her interpretations.
Yes, she’s an experienced actress as well as a singer, but it wasn’t just theatrical skills that she brought to her songs, as she moved with consummate ease across a stunning gamut of musical emotions. Some were hilarious – as when she wound up singing one of the songs while reclining on the floor. Others had the bold and brassy touch of a blues singer. And still others had the intimacy of expressive whispers in one’s ear.
In addition to the older blues-oriented tunes, Sally’s set was enriched by songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, done in her own fashion. And one couldn’t help but speculate that a recording devoted to material from the period could help bring Sally’s inimitable talents to an audience that still thinks of her as Hot Lips. Even though she is much more. At her best, and in a crowded female vocal field, she is one of the rare true originals.
A final gesture of applause for the superb backing provided by pianist Ed Martel, bassist Lyman Medeiros and Dick Weller, drums. And a special nod to Martel, who is also Sally’s music director, for the subtle, always appropriate arrangement support.
Photos by Faith Frenz.