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Review: JOHN MINNOCK at 54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

Review: JOHN MINNOCK at 54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

A celebratory concert for his new album SIMPLICITY gives John Minnock ample opps to show his skills.

John Minnock

54 Below

August 4, 2022

By Andrew Poretz

Jazz singer John Minnock walked up to the mic at 54 Below with the unassuming countenance and comportment of a CPA on Casual Friday. If I've learned anything from entertainers like Mel Torme, never judge a book by its cover. John appeared almost anxious in his opening remarks, most grateful for a cool audience on a sweltering New York City night. But then John opened his mouth to sing, and this fellow can swing! His warm, bari-tenor voice sounds like that of a much younger man, and his phrasing and interpretive skills are excellent. His unique vocal timbre somehow brings to mind a little bit of Michael Feinstein, a pinch of Al Jarreau, and a dash of Lou Rawls, but it is his own sound.

The singer, who made his 54 Below debut in 2019, returned to celebrate the release of his latest CD, Simplicity, his second outing with NEA Jazz Master and Grammy-nominee saxophonist, Dave Liebman. Billed as a "special guest," Mr. Liebman never left the stage, playing his soprano sax for the entire set along with Mr. Minnock's topnotch trio. John performed four songs from the new album, while the remainder were songs from his previous three CDs. The star wore what appeared to be a deep blue jacket over an open shirt and black pants, though upon closer inspection after the show, it turned out to be one of those groovy, paisley "show biz" dinner jackets.

Review: JOHN MINNOCK at 54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

While jazz and pop standards comprised more than half the songs in the set, Mr. Minnock is known for performing songs with lyrics chronicling various aspects of contemporary gay life, several of which he sung in this show. For those unaware of John's orientation, he made it clear in a song from the new album, "He Was a Brazilian" (Mathis Picard/Erick Holmberg) a bossa nova. Here, the singer waxes nostalgic about a long-ago lover he met on holiday in Rio who apparently rocked his world, even if he can't remember his height, or even his name. In gentlemanly fashion, John acknowledged the contributions of lyricist Erick Holmberg, who was present.

The award-winning composer David Shire wrote Simplicity's title song. Taking a stool, John sang this list song as a meditative ballad, with evocative lyrics and John's delivery creating a beautiful painting. An unresolving final chord gave the story a feeling of "To Be Continued."

A pair of jazz standards gave Mr. Minnock and the band ample room to show off their jazz bona fides. "Angel Eyes" (Matt Dennis/Earl Brent), arranged by Dave Liebman as a jazz waltz accented by fast drumming by Pablo Eluchans, had Liebman play the entire melody through, like a big band chart, before John came in to sing the torchy lyrics. For "On Green Dolphin Street" (Bronislaw Kaper/Ned Washington), a bridge-less song that lends itself to improvisation, the arrangement started in a Latin beat but switched to a standard 2/4 swing. Pianist Jon Thomas had a fine solo, and Mr. Minnock performed a growling scat solo.

Review: JOHN MINNOCK at 54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

Mr. Minnock is especially proud of "After All These Years," another song David Shire wrote for him (for the Herring Cove album). A celebration of marriage equality and all it took to achieve it, the composition is a bluesy number that may well become a new standard. But the hottest song of the night was "New York, New York" - not the Kander and Ebb song, but a Jay Brannan song from John's Right Around the Corner album. Pablo Eluchans' long drum solo started the song, and the wild arrangement had a great tension and cacophony that made for a visceral soundscape of New York nightlife. The provocative, colorful lyrics sardonically celebrate the worst things about living in "beautiful, beautiful, crazy, f-cking New York," with Minnock referencing things like having no luck on the Grindr hookup app or Facebook.

Mr. Minnock delivered his biggest vocal heat for the last few songs. For "You Don't Know What Love Is" (Gene de Paul/Don Raye), a jazz standard most associated with Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Chet Baker, the star reached his emotional high point of the set. This terrific arrangement started as a slow, torchy ballad, with John singing eight bars a capella, building up in speed and intensity. [Fun trivia: Like the jazz standard "I'll Remember April," this song was introduced in an Abbott and Costello movie!]

Review: JOHN MINNOCK at 54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz

The "final" song, "I Love Being Here with You" (Bob Schluger/Peggy Lee), was the most "traditional" jazz arrangement played, a fast, swinging number where Mr. Minnock let loose with some serious scatting. For an "extra" song, he sang "Skylark" (Hoagy Carmichael/Johnny Mercer) in honor of Judy Garland's centennial. (Mercer's lyrics were famously inspired by his ill-fated affair with the barely legal Garland.)

Though this show was ostensibly in support of Simplicity, the evening proved to be an excellent sampling of John Minnock's four albums. His musicians were superb, and it was a treat having Dave Liebman on board for the entire show. A recent collection of videos representing much of the material he performed on August 4th can be found on Broadway World HERE.

For more information about John Minnock, visit https://www.johnminnock.com/.

For more great shows at 54 Below, visit https://www.54below.com.

John Minnock

Band

Piano: Jon Thomas

Bass: Mark Lewandowski

Drums: Pablo Eluchans

Special guest saxophone: Dave Liebman

54 Below

254 West 54th Street, NYC

Leslie Farinacci's photos of John Minnock are courtesy of Lydia Liebman Promotions.

Review: JOHN MINNOCK at 54 Below by Guest Reviewer Andrew Poretz Andrew Poretz, "The Boulevardier of Broadway," is an entertainer (singer, guitarist, ukulele player and storyteller), producer, and a reviewer of jazz and cabaret shows, primarily for Theater Pizzazz. An early podcaster, his "Coaches' Corner on BlogTalkRadio" segments are still available on iTunes. Andrew has performed in prominent venues throughout New York and the Bay Area. Andrew is also a board member of The American Popular Song Society. His blog, "The Boulevardier," can be found at www.andrewporetz.com


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