BWW Review: Steve Ross and His Orchestra Bring Stylish RHYTHM AND ROMANCE to Birdland and Steal Hearts
"Rhythm and romance together are a synergy."
Attending a Steve Ross show is often akin to time travel. The audience is transported back to eras when urbanity and dash were watchwords, when interpretation meant being as true to the period as the meaning of lyrics. The classy Mr. Ross, known primarily for iconoclastic solo performance, appeared at Birdland Monday night with a zealous 11-piece band helmed by long time confederate Brian Cassier. The joint was jumpin'.
Ross began with two lesser known songs, "Love is In the Air Tonight" (Johnny Mercer/ Richard Whiting from Varsity Show) and "Leader of A Big Time Band" (Cole Porter from Something For the Boys): In the gilded age, a Wall Street millionaire/Was the answer to a working maiden's prayer/But today she'd chuck that yearly fifty grand/For the leader of a big-time band. Both were toe-tapping, jubilant. Horns came in smart, sharp and sassy. One imagined late flapper fringe flying.
"Love Is Just Around the Corner" (Leo Robin/Lewis Gensler from Here Is My Heart) arrived a swingin'-down-the-lane arrangement punctuated by percussion and an upstart trumpet that called to mind Leo Gorcey (The Bowery Boys.) Every now and then we heard skibbling piano. (Sound balance often contrived to bury both piano and vocal.) "These Foolish Things" (Eric Maschwitz/Jack Strachey from Spread It Abroad) was a melodic layer cake with violin glace. "This is one of your favorites, I hope it's one of mine."
"No Strings" from Top Hat-a song Ross explained was "written by Irving Berlin, Russia's greatest export after Vodka"--is driven by jaunty piano and rhythmic drum. Trumpet solo is a sparking cocktail with a wah-wah chaser. A sentimental "Just The Way You Look Tonight," mid-Swingtime medley, has lilt into which we emotionally lean. One might arguably call Ross "The Fred Astaire of his Idiom." No one else comes close to communicating the elegance, ease/illusive insouciance and exactitude of the artist. Usually just as singular with Noel Coward, Ross went awry tonight with "Bar On the Piccolo Marina," which I've repeatedly heard him do to perfection.
A lush "Dancing in the Dark" (Howard Dietz/Arthur Schwartz from The Band Wagon) was performed with chiffon piano cascades conjuring the rise and fall of Ginger Rogers' skirts as she raised and lowered her leg. "I Get a Kick Out of You" embodied grace and sophistication without pretension. In "I Concentrate On You," Ross allowed a hint of sob on the word "surrender" (On the light in your eyes when you surrender).
"Let Yourself Go" (Irving Berlin from Follow the Fleet) seems fully choreographed: First, slo-mo with purposeful drag buttered by horns, then insistent, hard on the keys, and finally, a fast boogie during which several musicians literally bounce in place.
The artist performs some numbers alone, spotlighting matchless inflection and pianistic musicianship. He can raise your pulse with infectious ebullience, slow your breath with jaded resignation, or stop it with depth of excavated tenderness. 'Think the man is flip? Listen to a ballad.
Steve Ross has been in New York for 47 years. With spirited renditions of "Take Me Back to Manhattan" and "I Happen To Like New York" (Cole Porter), the latter replete with classic bell rhythms and here, heraldic horns, the performer again expressed his love of this, his adopted home town.
"In view of what has happened to la famille en france" (the family-our-brothers in France), Ross closed with a solo of 1941's "The Last Time I Saw Paris" (Oscar Hammerstein II - inspired by German occupation of The City of Light/Jerome Kern). You could have heard a pin drop. Every bit of this sensitive man poured into remembrance and sympathy. Musicians turned towards him as if one. The room reflected.
Ross thanked Tom Duffy, the Director of Yale's Concert Band, for help on the arrangements and his centenarian vocal teacher, Maria Zhorella Fedorova (present and accounted for), who must be responsible for the flowering fullness of Ross's vocals.
Rhythm and romance
Romance and rhythm
A combination so real
An invitation to steal
Photos by Russ Weatherford