Live Jazz: Carol Welsman at Vitello’s

One of the many pleasures of reviewing music is the opportunity to hear gifted performers grow and evolve in their art.  And that’s exactly the feeling I had Wednesday night, when I heard singer/pianist Carol Welsman perform at Vitello’s.

I’ve been fond of her music since the first time I heard her a few years ago.  And I admired her work so much that when she asked me to write the liner notes for her album I Like Men, a tribute to Peggy Lee, I was delighted to do so.  I found her playing and singing on that album to be immensely entertaining.  Welsman honored Lee in the best possible way – not by simulating the Lee style, but by finding within it a powerful inspiration for her own creative vision.

Wednesday’s program took an entirely different tack, broadening the perspective and the repertoire of Welsman’s art.

Backed by regulars Rene Camacho on bass and Jimmy Branly on drums, with special guest Bob Sheppard on tenor and soprano saxophones and flute, she dipped into a far-ranging collection of songs, many having to do with travel.

Her opening tune, “Beyond the Sea,” happily eluded the influence of the Bobby Darin hit version, more reminiscent, instead, of the original – Charles Trenet’s “La Mer.”  Other, equally rich interpretations followed: a samba-driven take on “Come Fly With Me”; a reading of Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Get To Phoenix” that utterly captured the intimacy of the lyrics; and a romp through “Fly Me To The Moon” that opened space for Welsman and Sheppard to stretch their improvisational wings in briskly swinging fashion.

In mid-set, Welsman was joined by a special guest: television star, singer and actor Peter Marshall.  At 85, Marshall sang with an impressively youthful vigor, opening with a convincing reading of “That’s All” and dueting with Welsman on Henry Mancini’s poignant “Two For the Road.”

Welsman wrapped the show with a couple of captivating originals and a jaunty romp through “I Love Being Here With You.”  And from the audience’s point of view, the feelings were clearly mutual.  As she always does, Welsman gifted her listeners with a bouquet of songs as musically adventurous as they were lyrically engaging.  She’s one of a kind, and she just keeps getting better.

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