By Don Heckman
Studio City, CA. Jazz performances don’t get any more up close and personal than the bi-weekly appearances of Cat Conner and Gene “Cip” Cipriano at the Out Take Bistro in Studio. City. At their performance on Friday night, singer Conner and saxophonist/clarinetist Cipriano, with the aid of guitarist Jim Fox, were comfortably ensconced in a convenient corner of the venue’s main room, surrounded by clustered tables and enthusiastic listeners positioned virtually within an arm’s reach of the musicians.
The trio made the most of the intimacy, singing and playing with the sort of rich expressiveness one might experience at a living room jam session. And with less than two weeks until Christmas, Cat and Cip further enhanced the mood of musical intimacy with a program overflowing with holiday songs.
Among the highlights: Cat’s fun-loving take on “Merry Christmas, Baby,” her warm reading of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and the whimsically instructional behavioral warnings of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.” Add to that Irving Berlin’s classic “White Christmas,” sung with the too-rarely heard, scene-setting verse.
Here, as elsewhere in a pair of generous sets, Cat’s interpretations were rich with musical eloquence. The sweetness of her sound, combined with her gently swinging rhythmic phrasing, recalled some of the big band girl singers of the ‘40s and ‘50s — Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney and Dinah Shore among them. But always done from Cat’s unique creative perspective.
She sang Johnny Mandel’s “Emily” accompanied only by Fox’s fluent guitar lines. On other tunes – “Caravan” among them – she dueted with the laid back, woody tones of Cip’s persuasive clarinet lines. The far-ranging program also featured her equally engaging interpretations of a pair of familiar Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini items – the film song, “Charade” and the Academy Award winning “Days of Wine and Roses” – as well as an unusual view, with lyrics, of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.”
And there was more, all of it done with Fox’s guitar work providing superb, on the spot arrangements. Add to that Cip’s atmospheric counterlines on clarinet and tenor saxophone. Further enhancing the program, the group was joined – halfway through the set — by trombonist Dick Nash, whose buoyant style was a dynamic addition to the evening’s instrumental versions of tunes such as “Georgia On My Mind” and “Bye Bye Blackbird.”
Call it an appealing way to hear first rate jazz artists in a cozy, appropriately spontaneous setting. Cip and Cat’s performance schedule calls for appearances at the Out Take Bistro every other Friday night. And if you can’t wait another two weeks to hear them in action with their gifted musical associates, check out Cat’s debut CD, Cat Tales, which also features the presence of the gifted pianist/producer, the late George Mesterhazy in one of his last performances.