By: Alix Cohen
March 13, 2023: There’s still musical sophistication to be found in Manhattan. Every Saturday at 5:30, Eric Comstock assumes the piano at Birdland delivering an amalgam of vocal and musical jazz, American Songbook, and wry repartee. Aided and abetted by vocalist Barbara Fasano and bassist Sean Smith, the artist’s almost nonchalant skill is showcased in late afternoon respite. As always, there are unfrequented choices among the recognizable.
Cole Porter’s “At Long Last Love” opens with umph of spirit. Comstock’s right foot dances on the pedal as the tune zips around melody. “When Lights Are Low” (Benny Carter/Spencer Williams) follows with cottony vocal and at one point a Cheshire Cat smile – memory? When bass comes in with response, we hear voice. Like the Carter, John Wallowich’s “Back on the Town” is new to me. It’s a jaunty, urbane tap and fits like a proverbial glove.
“Mam’selle” (Edmund Goulding/Mack Gordon) starts wistfully a capella with pauses in all the right places. The unexpected pairing of Carole King’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” as an entreating ballad, not the pop styling to which we’re accustomed, and Billy Eckstine’s here plaintive “I Wanna Talk About You,” works wonderfully. “’Cause I love you…” Comstock sings, eyes closed. Bent to a half circle, Smith plucks his bass with precision and nuance.
“So Many People” (Stephen Sondheim – Saturday Night) and “Who Could Be Blue?” (cut from Sondheim’s Follies) accompanied by lovely, bowed bass, provide another deftly interwoven combination. (Comstock’s repertoire is vast.) “As long as there’s you with me/The only thing blue is the sky…” he sings with implicit sigh. “Old Devil Moon,” “from my favorite Irish musical by two Jewish kids from New York,” arrives by way of a truly haunting arrangement. (Burton Lane/Yip Harburg – Finian’s Rainbow.)
Barbara Fasano enters effervescent with “Comes Once in a Lifetime” (Leonard Bernstein/Betty Comden/ Adolph Green). “Now you’ve heard my favorite singer,” Comstock quips referring to his wife. During an Irish-tinted “I Wish It So” (Mark Blitzstein – Juno), the vocalist wears her heart on a polka dot sleeve. “What I wish, I still can’t know/It’s bound to come, I wish it so…” We believe her determination. Joni Mitchell’s “Marci” is an eclectic choice from the otherwise well known oeuvre of the winner of this year’s Gershwin Prize. “Her songs were always mantras to me,” the singer confides. Tone is melancholy. Parentheses with just bass and voice emerge rich, textured.
A duet of “Two for the Road” (Henry Mancini/Leslie Bricusse) is warm, Fasano’s voice in good form, supple and pristine, managing emphasis without stress or undo volume. An inflection here, an octave change there, she applies her own stamp.
Comstock calls himself a saloon singer. “If it’s good enough for Frank Sinatra and Bobby Short, it’s good enough for me.” The era of those two iconic examples offered a great many hotel rooms and nightclubs. Today we have just a few supporting the honorable tradition.
“You Fascinate Me So” (Cy Coleman/Carolyn Leigh) is infectiously rhythmic. It’s easy to imagine skating to the arrangement which slides, circles, dips and bends. Fasano returns for the tandem “Sun in the Sky” and “A Shine On Your Shoes” (Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz). She and Comstock play off one another with artistry and mutual appreciation.
This is a mellow, entertaining way to while away a late afternoon.
Caveat: While I’m sympathetic to and appreciative of the variety of Comstock’s offering (every week a different show) it’s disconcerting to watch so many lyrics read.
Look for a new duet CD come Autumn.
Opening photo courtesy of the artists
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