By Chris Struck, Broadway World
Birdland Jazz Club, NYC, February 15th, 2020
Catherine Russell blends her high-energy personality with jazz well, creating an invigorating atmosphere primed for an intimate moment. Her ballads are passionate, and her tributes to jazz greats brought the aura of their heyday to life. After her band opened on an instrumental number, Russell broke open the night triumphantly on “At the Swing Cats’ Ball.” The lyrics, by nature, are a little fun, and Russell didn’t shy away from taking a playful spin on lyrics such as in the next song when she sang, “You’re not the only oyster in the stew.” However you look at Russell’s music, there was a clear reason why she had sold out the Jazz Club at Birdland: her voice.
The top moments came on Nat King Cole’s “Send For Me,” the 1932 classic and title of her latest album, “Alone Together,” and the quirky Rosa Henderson “He May Be Your Dog But He’s Wearing My Collar” tune that seems to be plucked from an obscure corner of the internet. I feel like “Alone Together” was a ripe classic for a resurgence in today’s day and age. There’s a book, of the same title, written about connecting to the internet rather than people. Though Russell wasn’t shy about making connections either, given the theme of the Rosa Henderson ditty. Isn’t there something fun about thinking of a guy as a dog that you take around town?
With such a varied array of jazz tunes, one would think that Russell wouldn’t have much further to go to have gone from one end of the spectrum to another, but the night really came to life when she brought the audience to her Caribbean-minded portion that closed out her set. In fact, I’d venture to say that she could have a whole show beginning with the likes of these “Calypso” classics such as Slim Gaillard‘s “Make It Do.” It helps that the lyrics ring true, especially to an audience of New Yorkers who find ways to turn studio apartments into “3 bedroom” units. Just remember “If to fancy ball you go, in a borrowed tuxedo. Just be careful how you dance, if you find too tight the pants. Make it do, make it do!”
She also had most of the band from her latest release on stage, including Matt Munisteri on guitar, Mark Shane on piano, Tal Ronen on bass, Mark McLean on drums, Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, John Allred on trombone, and Evan Arntzen on tenor saxophone/clarinet. It was always a good moment when the trio of trumpet, trombone, and tenor-sax lined up their solos in varied orders. However, Munisteri on the guitar was my favorite, and he happened to be the musical director too.