By Don Heckman
Bel Air CA. There was music in the air Thursday night at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. Not that it was especially unusual to hear an engaging program of songs at Herb Alpert’s elegant Bel Air jazz club. But on this evening, with singer/pianist Betty Bryant displaying the full range of her remarkable skills, backed by the stellar support of bassist Pat Senatore and drummer Ramon Banda, every note was memorable.
Start with Bryant’s far reaching piano playing. Suffice to say that she is a superb master of the Great American songbook, both as an accompanist (for her vocals) and as an appealing instrumental soloist.
In piece after piece, she punched out piano lines propulsively driven by her bop articulations, blues grooves and crisp, imaginative improvising. Senatore and Banda, world class rhythm section players, provided Bryant with every bit of creative support a soloist could desire.
But it was when Bryant was combining her inimitable blend of vocals and piano backing that she displayed the highlights in this musically gripping performance.
A veteran artist, Bryant was preceeded in the singer/pianist genre by the likes of Nina Simone, Shirley Horn, Carmen McRae, among many others. And like those illustrious predecessors, Bryant used her instrumental skills to provide the perfect settings for her vocals.
Throughout the program, Bryant demonstrated imaginative creative versatility, moving easily and convincingly from bossa nova and the blues to Songbook standards, while displaying her gift for finding the intimate story within a song.
Urged forward by Senatore and Banda, she was fully in touch with bossa nova subtleties in her renderings of “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Corcovado.” And her love for the blues was fully apparent in the way she blended instrumental riffs with pointed vocalizing on “My Man Don’t Love Me” and an especially captivating “St. Louis Blues.”
Add to that Bryant’s equally effective readings of such Songbook classics as “I Thought About You,” “Squeeze Me,” Easy Living” and “I Got Rhythm. In effective contrast, she offered instrumental versions of “Some Other Time” and “I’ll Remember April.”
And in a performance filled with high points, Bryant was especially effective with a climactic “Something Cool,” a song long associated with June Christy. In Bryant’s hands (and voice), the Billy Barnes’ classic was presented with the musical story telling qualities that are at the heart of her musical art.
Call it a rare evening of song, performed with musical alacrity. It’s worth keeping in mind that Betty Bryant doesn’t have a high volume of performances in L.A. So don’t miss any opportunity to hear her in action.
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Photos by Faith Frenz.