By Ron Forman, Cabaret Scenes
Catherine Russell is one of the truly wonderful jazz singers of our time. Add her all-star band consisting of Mark Munisteri (guitar), Mark Shane (piano), Tal Ronen (bass), Mark McLean (drums), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Evan Arntzen (reeds), and John Allred (trombone), and you have the recipe for a memorable 90-minute music extravaganza. Russell has a big sound and great phrasing, and her excellent enunciation allowed me to appreciate every lyric that she sang. She exudes confidence on stage and allows each of her numbers to contain an applause-producing solo by at least one member of her band. She does not say much, but she provides an interesting introductory comment to each song and her off the cuff comments are often quite funny. She is constantly in motion on stage, which makes her a joy to watch. The show was performed during Valentine week, so most of the songs were love songs. February is Black History Month and Russell used her vocals to pay tribute to Nat Cole, Ethel Waters, Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, and other legendary black vocalists.
The band opened with a swinging “Exactly Like You.” Russell opened with a Le Jazz Hot 1923 song “Sweet Cats Ball,” which she used to introduce each member of the band. She then did the funny list song “You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Stew” followed by a delightful “You Brought a New Kind of Love to Me.” She proved she could handle a romantic ballad with “Alone Together,” and a very warm “When Did You Leave Heaven.” She got tumultuous applause for a wonderful 1923 song introduced by Rosa Henderson, “He May Be Your Dog, but He Wears My Collar.” She used a different, softer voice for “I Only Have Eyes for You.” She paid tribute to Lady Day by performing “Did I Remember” in the manner that the young Holiday performed it in 1936. Russell had a lot of fun performing the calypso song “Make It Do,” having the audience join in singing “make it do, make it do.” I loved her lively performance of another 1936 song originally performed by Jimmy Rushing, “You Can’t Pull the Wool Over My Eyes.” Her next-to-closing number was the best performance of “All the Way” by a female vocalist that I have ever heard; it was comparable to Frank Sinatra’s iconic recording. Russell closed with a joyfully swinging “Wrap You Troubles in Dreams.”