By Don Heckman
Studio City CA. There was no doubt in my mind that Cheryl Bentyne would deliver a memorable performance at Vitello’s Saturday night. I just didn’t know how memorable it would be.
Fully returned to performing action after recovering from a life threatening illness, Cheryl was in peak condition. She had been a dynamic member of the Manhattan Transfer, singing superb vocal harmonies for more than three decades. Since then she has further demonstrated the range of her remarkable singing skills, occasionally as a soloist, more often in a duet format with singer Mark Winkler.
In this performance she was in the spotlight for the entire show, backed by pianist Rich Eames, bassist Chris Coalangelo and drummer Dave Tull. And the musical interaction was world class, on all levels.
The primary theme that continually flowed through Cheryl’s performance was her consummate skill at musical storytelling. Whether she was swinging hard on an up tempo, leisurely working her way through a touching ballad, or mixing scat phrases with lyrical passages, she was always in complete, intimate contact with the words she was singing, transforming virtually every song into an irresistible musical short story.
Start with the fascinating program of tunes that Cheryl assembled. She could easily have done what many other singers do – simply worked her way through a familiar program of American Songbook classics. Instead, she blended songs from a variety of sources – including a few familiar Songbook items, as well as some lesser known, but equally compelling tunes.
She began, for example, with “Love For Sale,” singing it in a crisply swinging ¾. Then, perhaps in a wryly humorous gesture, she followed it with “If I Told You I Loved You, I Lied.”
In another unusual pairing, she introduced Stephen Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind” with an appropriately sardonic poem by Dorothy Parker.
Add to that another intriguing combination, including “It’s The Talk of the Town” (sung with the verse) followed by “Get Out of Town.”
Beyond the song pairings, there were other offbeat items. Among them, the cabaret classic, “Something Cool”; a stunning scat duet between Cheryl and drummer Tull on “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home to”; the mesmerizing, but too rarely heard Patricia Barber song, “I Could Eat Your Words.”
Looking at the list of numbers sung by Cheryl in one evening performance, one could be impressed by her musical versatility alone. But with the best singers – and Cheryl is definitely one of the best – it’s not just the program of material. It’s what’s done with the material.
Cheryl is a brilliantly engaging performer, inviting her receptive audience into a constantly changing orbit, hard swinging at times, humorous on occasions, musically intimate on ballads, and always interacting with Eames, Coangelo and Tull with fully collegial musicianship.
Summing up, this was another remarkable and, yes, memorable performance by one of the musical world’s most gifted artists. Like a previous appearance she made at Vitellos, a little over a year ago, it whet the musical appetite for more opportunities to hear Cheryl Bentyne explore the full length and breadth of her bewitching creative talents.
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Photos by Faith Frenz.