By Don Heckman
Studio City, CA. Taking a break from her full time job with the Manhattan Transfer, Janis Siegel made one of her rare solo appearances Tuesday night before a full house crowd at Vitello’s. And the result was an extraordinary display of her irresistibly appealing musicality. By the time her performance had wound to a close, she had delivered a set of far-ranging songs demanding an array of unique interpretive skills.
Given the demands of singing the Transfer’s rich repertoire, it’s no surprise that Siegel chose a diverse program of works that would have challenged any singer. But the key point was not what she did, but how she did it.
Among the numerous highlights in a performance superbly backed by the stellar trio of pianist John Di Martino, bassist Boris Koslov and drummer Steve Haas:
– A gorgeously expressive reading of Billy Strayhorn’s classic “A Flower Is A Lovesome Thing.
– The sophisticated musical pleasures of Ann Hampton Callaway’s original tune, “Slow.”
– Antonio Carlos Jobim’s memorable bossa nova,” Inutil Paisagem” (“Useless Landscape,”) with bassist Koslov managing to produce guitar-like bossa rhythms on his instrument.
– A number that was introduced by Siegel as a “Bach Improvisation.” And it began with Siegel scatting a convincingly Baroque-sounding set of inventions that were soon transformed into Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring.”
– Fred Hersch’s lovely ballad, “Endless Stars,” sung with captivatingly intimate lyricism.
– A delightfully rhythmic romp through “Minnie the Moocher.”
And there was more: a Cuban bolero; a song written by Siegel and David Sanborn; and a Norwegian song about imperfection.
Add to that the presence of a pair of impressive guest artists. First, the songwriter/producer Leon Ware came out of the audience to share a duet on “A Whole Lotta Man.”
But the second guest artist, singer Tierney Sutton, got together with Siegel for one of the major highlights of this, or any other, night at Vitello’s. They only sang a single number – “You Don’t Know What Love Is” – but it was a spontaneous, duet performance, filled with stunning, interactive passages that will surely be remembered by every enthusiastic member of the audience.
In my reviews of a pair of Siegel appearances that took place over the past couple of years, I wrapped both with an expression of my desire to hear her more frequently in a solo setting reaching beyond her stunning work with the Transfer. So, too, for this review. And I’ll wind it up with more hope that Siegel will gift her many fans with more frequent opportunities to hear her in solo action.
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Photos by Faith Frenz.