Jazz CD Reviews

Deborah Shulman/Larry Zalkind – Lost In The Stars: The Music Of BERNSTEIN, WEILL and SONDHEIM – Summit Records

This is a welcome reworking of three renowned stage composers.

Published on October 17, 2012

Deborah Shulman/Larry Zalkind – Lost In The Stars: The Music Of BERNSTEIN, WEILL and SONDHEIM – Summit Records

Deborah Shulman/Larry Zalkind – Lost In The Stars: The Music Of BERNSTEIN, WEILL and SONDHEIM – Summit Records DCD 588, 68:46 ****:

(Larry Zalkind – trombone; Jeff Colella – piano; Chris Colangelo – bass; Joe LaBarbera – drums; Larry Koonse – guitar; Roberta Zalkind – viola; Matthew Zalkind – cello; Frank morocco – accordion; Terry Trotter – piano; Steve Schaeffer – drums; Deborah Shulman – vocals; Ken Wild – bass;)

The concept of updating Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim to a modern jazz context is not exactly groundbreaking. These are musical geniuses whose compositions have an innate eloquence that can translate in adaptation. There have been many interpretations of this music by diverse artists. But when you start with a source of inimitable material, it encourages innovation in the approach.

Larry Zalkind had a specific discipline in classical orchestral brass instrumentation. Together with vocalist Deborah Shulman, he was committed to interpreting these composers in an unusual jazz setting that started with trombone and voice. The result of this collaboration is Lost In The Stars. With an all-star ensemble, the songs are rendered with fresh atypical versions. The first cut to jump out is “Mack The Knife” (Three Penny Opera). Most versions rely on a sly rhythmic tempo, especially the hit single by Bobby Darin. However, this one takes a decidedly new framework.  Shulman’s ethereal vocals are set against the near-classical romantic arrangement of Ted Howe with pizzicato and rich sentiment.

West Side Story is represented by two songs: “Something’s Coming” has an undercurrent of rhythmic dramatics, but the vocals are subdued and blend into the ensemble. Zalkind combines with the rhythm section and resurrects Bernstein’s musical prominence. The eager anticipation is balanced by a perceived melancholy. The use of guitar (Larry Koonse), bass (Chris Colangela) and drum (Joe LaBarbera ) co-mingle with the strings in a understated, slower latin jam. “I Feel Pretty” moves with a guileless charm that provides a singing counterpoint to the strings, guitar and drums. Three additional Bernstein classics are performed, including a ruminative, gentle bossa nova take on “Lucky To Be Me”. Again, the harmony parts between Shulman and Zalking are tightly correlated. “It’s Love” is crisply arranged bop with the quartet and singer.

Emphasizing the plaintive ambivalence of Sondheim’s “Children Will Listen”, the orchestration is relaxed, adding a backdrop to the story. Violin does not overwhelm the inherent feeling… it merely adds shades of melancholy. On another note, “It’s Love” feels like a straight ahead jazz combo with flourishes and wistfulness. Schulman’s vocal phrasing reflects the conversational tone of Sondheim. Zalkind adds sentiment and texture on trombone, and eschews customary extended solos. However, he shines on the tender instrumental, “My Ship”. The title track (from Cry The Beloved Country that was also covered by Bill Evans and others) adopts a traditional jazz structure, with trombone and guitar solos. The arrangements are not predictable.

Lost In The Stars does justice to the legacy of three important composers.  

TrackList: Something’s Coming; Lucky To Be Me; Mack The Knife; The Ladies Who Lunch; Children Will Listen; It’s Love; I Feel Pretty; Losing My Mind; September Song; Ain’t Got No Tears Left; My Ship; Leave You; Lost In The Stars; No One Is Alone/Not While I’m Around

—Robbie Gerson

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