“Forever tango” Is Back On Broadway

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By Barry Bassis

Forever Tango,” Luis Bravo’s spectacular revue, should begin with a warning: “trying this at home can be injurious to your health.” The tango look is not hard to master, generally a sullen expression as the dancer stares off into space. (This seeming disinterest or antipathy is rather incongruous since their bodies are wrapped around one other.) The dangerous parts are those lightning-fast foot movements that have to be perfectly synchronized or one of the dancers would end up in a bruised heap on the floor. Like jazz, the tango began in brothels and then gained respectability as its popularity spread. “Tango Forever” recreates the various styles, from ballet to ballroom and show dancing to a wonderful comic pair, Marcelo Bernadaz and Verónica Gardella, performing “La Tablada.”

Cross-Over Is A Two-Way Street

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By Barry Bassis

Last year, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra performed a concert of Beatles songs. Now the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has returned the compliment with an album of songs by Burt Bacharach, “What the World Needs Now …” Although none of these interpretations overshadows the recordings of Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin or Dusty Springfield, the album is quite pleasant and has the merit of collecting all these songs on one CD. Bacharach’s genius is creating sophisticated pop songs that never fail to sound fresh, like “I Say a Little Prayer” and “Walk on By.” He made his reputation collaborating with lyricist Hal David, who was never pretentious and could be witty. On the other hand, they could both be sappy (as on “Close to You” or “Magic Moments”) The vocalists are Graham Bickley, Mary Carewe, Alison Jiear and Sarah Lark. Arranger-conductor Richard Balcombe recognized that he couldn’t improve Bacharach’s original flourishes, such as the guiro (a Latin-American percussion instrument) on “The Look of Love” or the saxophone solo on “Arthur’s Theme” but the lush orchestration adds to the romance without inhibiting the rhythmic drive. Jihear’s “Don’t Make Me Over” and “There’s Always Something There to Remind Me” are suitably intense—she is the most soulful of the singers—and “The Look of Love” is ethereal. Bickley’s voice is well suited to “Promises Promises” and “Wives and Lovers” — he sounds a bit like Jack Jones -- but is too light for “Twenty-Four Hours to Tulsa.” Sarah Lark’s buoyant rendition of “San Jose” made me appreciate the clever lyrics more than before and Carewe is charming on “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”

Eat A Meal with Natasha or Dance the Pounds Off with Imelda

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By Barry Bassis

What’s with all the plays with Russian titles this past season? There was “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” “Nikolai and the Others,” and “Natasha, Pierre And The Great Comet of 1812.” The last one is a musical based on part of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” and is being performed in Kazino, a supper club erected just for this show. Both the venue and the musical are worth taking in.

American Music (and Musicians) For The Ages

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By Barry Bassis

We all know that great music lasts forever, but some musicians seem to live, and even perform, into their old age.

When a new CD, “Magic 101,” arrived from Frank Wess, I immediately checked for the date of the recording, assuming it must have been made decades ago. Yet, the session took place in June 2011. Born in 1922, he performed at Birdland earlier this year to celebrate his 91st birthday. Wess was a mainstay of the Count Basie band during his ten years there. That group became know as the “Two Franks” band because of the two saxophonist-composer-arrangers Frank Wess and Frank Foster. In 2007 he received the American Jazz Masters Fellowship award from The National Endowment for the Arts. And what does Wess sound like on the CD? Smooth as silk. Wess plays tenor saxophone and, never a flamboyant musician, he is mellower than ever, on evergreens like “The Very Thought of You” and “Easy Living.” He also sustains a gentle swing, with the help of a first-rate group: Kenny Barron on piano, Kenny Davis on bass and Winard Harper on drums. This is an album you can put on to relax after a stressful day. Incidentally, the tile of the new album is a reference to the fact that Magic is the nickname his band mates gave to Wess. My only complaint about the CD is that Wess doesn’t play flute, an instrument on which he was one of the jazz pioneers.