Deborah Shulman / Larry Zalkind: Lost In The Stars: The Music Of Bernstein, Weill & Sondheim (2012)
The respective output from compositional icons Leonard Bernstein, Kurt Weill and, to a lesser extent, Stephen Sondheim has frequently been putty in jazz musicians' and arrangers' hands, proving that malleability is a sine qua non for long-range success in writing; genius-level composing skills, of course, also tend to help.
While the actual act of interpreting the work of these three men is hardly original at this point, the fashion by which vocalist Deborah Shulman, trombonist Larry Zalkind and their talented compatriots dig into their music is wholly unique. They look at each of these fourteen selections as individual opportunities to honor each composer's original intention, while painting their own innovative brushstrokes atop these masterworks. While it would be easy to commit to a single strategy for a project like this, be it art song haughtiness, classical stringency or out-and-out nightclub jazz, Shulman and Zalkind take the high road, touching on everything but committing to no single avenue or approach. Zalkind's tone, honed through his work as the principal trombonist with the Utah Symphony, and Shulman's theatrical delivery hide no secrets about their respective stylistic comfort zones, but both artists prove to be just as malleable as the songs they interpret.
Four different arrangers were tapped for this project and each man brings something different to the table. Jeff Colella gives "Something's Coming" a terrific odd-metered makeover and brings a light-handed approach to "I Feel Pretty," while Terry Trotter moves "It's Love" from easy-does-it swing to Brazilian shores. Brad Warnaar turns "My Ship" into a rich and rewarding piece for a Zalkind overdubbed trombone choir, and Ted Howe removes the happy-go-lucky-swing shackles that often keep "Mack The Knife" from reaching its full potential. Here, it's reborn with chamber grace, riding atop a flowing 12/8 feel with graceful strings, accordion and, of course, trombone, helping to resurface its well-worn exterior.
Studio aces like guitarist Larry Koonse and drummer Joe La Barbera deserve some credit for helping to shape and mold these songs into their final state, but this is really the Shulman and Zalkind show. Shulman's clear diction and artful interpretations of these songs, and Zalkind's fine and focused trombone work make for a winning combination.
Track Listing: 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.
Personnel: Deborah Shulman: vocals; Larry Zalkind: trombone; Jeff Colella: piano; Chris Colangelo: bass; Joe LaBarbera: drums; Larry Koonse: guitar; Roberta Zalkind: viola; Matthew Zalkind: cello; Frank Marocco: accordion; Steve Schaeffer: drums; Terry Trotter: piano.