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BWW Review: Susan Mack Celebrates the MUSIC IN THE AIR at Birdland Theater

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Susan Mack and her band return to Birdland with a musical tribute to music.

BWW Review: Susan Mack Celebrates the MUSIC IN THE AIR at Birdland Theater

Surrounded by the modern design sensibilities of the Birdland Theater, Susan Mack spent a Sunday night taking the audience back in time. With a 16-song setlist comprised of jazz classics from the early-to-mid 20th century (with a few more modern songs up to the 1980s), Mack's "Music in the Air" was meant to be a celebration of the impact of music as it surrounds us in our day-to-day lives. At one point joking that, with everything else that's been in the air of late, music is a good thing to be touched by, Mack interlaced the songs with some explanations and a few hints at her life behind the curtain.

Each of Mack's 16 songs fell along the same theme - music, and its importance in everything from our love lives to our entertainment - and the setlist boasted a good mix of pensive, slow ballads with some upbeat tunes. One standout performance was "Spain (I Can Recall)," a slower song that gives the impression, both through the lyrics and Mack's performance of it, that this is a sad recollection... until, that is, the music speeds up and the narrator starts to recall better times. The song was very interesting on a vocal level, allowing Mack to showcase her skills, and was overall impressive. On the whole, though, the night was a slow one. Most of the songs leaned more traditional, and I found it easy to lose myself in my own thoughts as I listened - imagining, perhaps, that I was the narrator of "The Midnight Sun," dancing all night long with a beautiful stranger. There's a quality to Mack's singing and the songs she has chosen which allows the listener to be fanciful, to indulge in outlandish inventions.

The oldest song on the list was 1928's "I Got Rhythm," during which Mack introduced her band, prefacing each name with, "my man," a nod to the song's lyrics. On the flip side, the most modern selection of the night was "Gotta Get Me Some ZZZ's" from 1981, which Mack altered slightly to include some "lyrical enhancements" and make it more relevant to 2021. At multiple points throughout the show, Mack almost took a backseat and allowed her band - Tedd Firth on the piano; David Finck on bass; and Eric Halvorson on the drums - to shine in their own solos; she took genuine delight, it appeared, in letting them have a chance to show off their own prowess. Truly, though hers was the name on the playbill, it was a group effort, and you could tell Mack appreciated her band.

Throughout the night, the curtains behind her changed colors according to the spotlight colors, each change often reflecting the song's mood or ambiance.

Though many of the selections were standards of jazz and the show was intended to be a celebration of music, in some ways the night plodded rather than danced. The lack of any music created later than the 1980s was, in the end, a hindrance to the overall intended effect - while there is great merit and value in older music, there are also excellent new arrangements and compositions put to music in the past 40 years that do their own part in celebrating the "dancing, romancing and loving that music inspires in all of us," as the show description put it. The show could have benefited from a greater marriage of the traditional and the contemporary.

One thing that's not up for debate is Mack's talent as a singer - one who shines, especially, when holding long notes and finishing out songs, a perfect showcase for her vocal prowess.

Find great shows to see at Birdland HERE.


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