BWW Reviews: With Rhythmic Enthusiasm, NINA HENNESSEY & RAY MARCHICA Host Jazzy Set at Birdland

With new Sunday evening Birdland Jazz Party host Carole J. Bufford performing elsewhere last night, the club recruited drummer Ray Marchica and his vocalist wife Nina Hennessy (right), who rounded up some of their talented friends for an evening of vocal and instrumental jazz, new compositions, and golden standards. Marchica's band featured Sean Harkness on guitar, Tom Hubbard on bass, and Bob Quaranta on piano. Special guests included vocalist Marissa Mulder and composer/pianist Ian Herman.

Marchica, who excels at multiple genres with illusive ease, plays what I'd call dare-me drums. On lower key numbers, one gets the feeling he's ever ready to riff out and soar. Later, of course, he does just that; tapping into rhythms we civilians can't otherwise hear. A two handed "It's A Good Day" (Peggy Lee/Dave Barbour) with Hennessey was originally performed on a stage too small for his drum set. Marchica recreates the answer playing a metal music stand. The song emerges blithe and cooooool.

To my mind, there aren't enough of these single instrument accompaniments in cabaret and jazz shows. Not only respite among sometimes thickly layered arrangements, they offer the essence of interpretation. On this night, the audience was treated to several.

Hennessey's appealing "Lover" (Rodgers and Hart)--the lady has a way with scat--congas to Marchica's propulsive, Latin rhythm until the vocal shoots like a geyser into the clouds. Piano melody delivers elastic phrasing that stretches and retracts. A gorgeously bruised "Willow Weep for Me" (Anne Ronell), long Hennessey's favorite song, arrives with Hubbard's tensile bass viscerally inhaling and exhaling cadence. The vocalist is possessed on this one, looking up to begin a lyric, bent forward by its impact. Raw alto is squeezed till emotional contralto emerges. It's a memory, a regret, a wail.

Guest Vocalist Marissa Mulder, whose professional growth is like watching the slow-mo of a flower bloom, also offers one of these. With Harkness' eminently versatile guitar in gauzy valentine mode, she performs a wistful rendition of "Moon River" (Johnny Mercer/Henry Mancini) with just the right dewy, sad, but grateful expression.

A version of Larry Kerchner's wry "You're Gettin' To Me" epitomizes the Mulder with whom we're familiar: I know you're not my rainbow's golden pot/And your grammar's not so hot/But right now, baby--hands go to her hair in resignation--you're getting to me . . . she sings with wide eyes, wrinkled nose, and a shrug. "Come Fly With Me" (Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen), on the other hand, showcases recent confidence as Mulder plays with phrasing making it her own. With easy swing and a little step-touch-step, emphasized lyrics arc out and back in melodic loops. You may never better understand 'rarified.'

Among original compositions, guest Ian Herman's "Bop" so clearly 'gets' zoot suits and jitter-buggers, one wonders whether he experienced another life. Melody is loose limbed and swung wide, conjuring cinematic images. Sean Harkness's "Gambled" also evokes choreography. A get down number in tight bellbottoms driven by staccato moves, the tune's themes are densely embedded with piano running fluidly through like an outlaw on the lam.

Hennessey, whose alto is more successful than attempts at sustaining higher range, additionally gives us an infectiously cheerful "Morning" (Jay Gradon/David Foster/Al Jarreau), with Harkness's guitar skipping and skibbling (photo right), and a molasses-dripping version of "Lazy Afternoon" (Jerome Moross/John Treville Latouche). Feeling unarticulated on the languid latter is sex, yes, but it's too damn hot.

Jazz instrumentals include the muscular "Afro Blue" (Mongo Santamaria) like a sweeping overhead shot of the multi-populated jungle, and a bracing interpretation of "Alone Together" (Arthur Schwartz/Howard Dietz) diametrically opposed in both tempo and attitude to its unsung lyrics. It was pointed out to me that if one didn't know the original, the piece might've stood on its own. I couldn't get past it.

Musicianship was adroit, bonhomie obvious.

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From This Author Alix Cohen

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