Laurel Massé at Birdland - Concert Review

Laurel Massé brought her impeccable, cool, lyrically compelling vocal elegance to Broadway at Birdland. She presented a program of standards and jazz performed with taste and subtlety. Most songs were familiar, but nothing sounded quite like you've heard it before.
With Tex Arnold at the piano, her opening announced that "Something's Coming" in jazz waltz time, with Arnold tucking in amusing snippets of other tunes. A jazz favorite, "East of the Sun" offered another early opportunity to show off some nimble scat chops. Mentioning her admiration for Margaret Whiting, Massé sang four of Margaret's dad, Richard Whiting's Great American songs, beginning with a less well-known tune, "Can't Teach My Old Heart New Tricks." If this torcher never appeared in a '40s film, it should have. Just imagine Lauren Bacall perched on a piano, moanin' low.
Massé is a natural singer, a contralto without mannerisms but instead with a basis that makes it all look easy. Her resonant voice scans several octaves with perfect pitch and control. She stands still at the piano and just sings. She discovers the heart of the song, and her phrasing and stress communicate the essence to the audience, like a sly "baby" in "Have You Got Any Castles, Baby?" adds a flirtatious curve. In her ballads, like "My Ideal," she luxuriates in elongated vowels.
As a nod to her early days with Manhattan Transfer, Massé sang "Seven Years in Four Minutes" from the harmonic quartet's songbook, including, she quipped, "the original choreography." She delivered "Old Devil Moon" with a cool staccato beat. Her versatility was further displayed with the "obsession medley" of Sondheim's "Losing My Mind," Coleman and Zippel's "With Every Breath I Take," and "Breathing" by Brourman/McBroom. She vocalized to Tex Arnold's evocative "Burcham Woods," noting that the melody needed no words. Pianist/arranger Tex Arnold, David Finch on bass, and drummer Rich de Rosa added instrumental textures to the Massé musical magic.
Elizabeth Ahlfors
Cabaret Scenes
September 15, 2008