By Don Heckman
Singers Mark Winkler and Dolores Scozzesi were the headliners at Vitello’s Friday night. And that was good news, since both are among L.A.’s most appealing jazz-oriented singers. But the evening promised even more with a sub-headline announcing that they would be singing songs by “Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Randy Newman: The Great Singer/Songwriters of the ‘70s.”
An intriguing idea. The singer/songwriter era – of both the ‘60s and the ‘70s – was one of the most significant, if occasionally underestimated, chapters in the Great American Songbook. Add names such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, among others, to the list and the result is a repertoire of songs fully capable of standing alongside the likes of Porter, Gershwin, Berlin, etc.
Winkler and Scozzesi, however, chose a somewhat narrower collection. Most of what Winkler sang in his solo segments were drawn from his recent album, The Laura Nyro Project.
Nothing wrong with that, given the Nyro repertoire. And Winkler, backed by the superb accompaniment of pianist Rich Eames, guitarist Pat Kelley, drummer Dave Tull and bassist Kevin Axt, thoroughly explored some of Nyro’s most compelling works. A few were familiar tunes, covered by other artists as well – “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “And When I Die” and “He’s A Runner.” Add to that the somewhat less frequently heard “California Shoe Shine Boy,” “Billy’s Blues” and “Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp.”
But no matter what song Winkler was singing, he approached it with a musically intimate approach, always in search of the multi-layered emotions of the Nyro catalog.
Scozzesi took a broader view of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Her program reached from Joni Mitchell’s “River” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like A Woman” to Randy Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On” and Phoebe Snow’s “Poetry Man.”
The selections, along with a few others, were perfectly chosen for Scozzesi’s rich interpretive style. Whether she was finding the sardonic whimsy in the Newman tune or the poignancy of Dylan, she did so with brilliantly expressive story-telling and convincing musicality.
The only missing elements were the presence of a few more duet numbers and, even more importantly, a broader overview of the “Great Singer/Songwriters of the ‘70s.” Hearing Winkler sing songs by, say, James Taylor or Paul Simon, and – similarly – hearing Scozzesi do a few more from the Joni Mitchell catalog, along with a Leonard Cohen tune or two, would also have been a welcome addition to this otherwise entertaining evening.
So let’s call it an advance promise of a future, more far-reaching performance of singer/songwriter music from the talented Winkler and Scozzesi.
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Photos by Faith Frenz. To see more photos by Faith Frenz click HERE.