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Marlene VerPlanck

| September 30, 2017

Marlene VerPlanck

Kitano Jazz Room, NYC, August 26,2017

Reviewed by Kathleen Landis for Cabaret Scenes

Marlene VerPlanck

If you love hearing a good singer with a swinging sense of rhythm singing good songs, you should stop what you are doing and find out where you can next hear master stylist, Marlene VerPlanck. On this Saturday night, she shared the Kitano Jazz Room stage with a duo composed of well-known and respected New York musicians: pianist Russ Kassoff, and bassist Jay Leonhart.

VerPlanck gave an emotionally satisfying program to a sold-out house which included many devoted fans.

She is known to a large and diverse audience because of her long and highly successful career which has embraced the merging of commercial and jazz recordings, jingles (“That’s what Campbell’s soups are: Mm-Mm-Good!”; the 2016 Downbeat nomination for Best Jazz CD), as well as live performance (Carnegie Hall, Joe’s Pub) in a crossover of genres.

She has great appeal in this intimate jazz venue because of her warm timbre, crisp diction, and phrasing that never allows rhyming sequences to cloy. Nearly everything she sings is done in a conversational way, the essence of non-classical style. Yet, there is plenty of amplitude when she chooses to ramp up the voltage. But, even at its peak, her instrument remains balanced from bottom to top. That takes vocal technique, and she has plenty of it, but her technique is not used to show off what the voice can do: it is used to tell the story. Here is an artful storyteller who happens to know how to sing it to tell it.

The set began with a dazzling duo number performed by Kassoff and Leonhart. VerPlanck  opened with “Haven’t We Met,” a clever, swinger written by Ruth Batchelor and Kenny Rankin. She stepped onto the first note swinging and stayed there throughout the show. A few favorites were “Nothing Ever Changes My Love for You,”  a number not heard often enough, was set to a light Latin groove, followed by a medley of two popular jazz classics, “It Could Happen to You and “Love Walked In” (gorgeous verse inserted in the middle in sophisticated jazz arrangements).

Continuing with more of the American Songbook’s top songwriters, the trio brought an edge to Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love,” and sensitive tenderness to Irving Berlin’s lovely gem, “I Used to Be Color Blind.” My personal favorite in that group was the little-known Harold Arlen/Leo Robin “It Was Written in the Stars,” that speaks of the force of fate that decides whom we will love. “Fun-da-door” was the perfect Carolyn Leigh word creation to capture VerPlanck’s meticulous diction, rhythmic sharpness, and humor in this Cy Coleman classic, “When in Rome (I Do as the Romans Do)” and, of “Old Devil Moon,” I can only say, “This was made for Marlene.” The musicians knew it and we felt it.

She closed with the lamenting jazz standard, “The End of a Love Affair,” which I thought a curious choice for a closer. But, instead of the usual ballad tempo, she drove the tempo so it worked well as a finish to a good set.

Backtracking to the middle of the set, the song that made me wipe a tear away was “Rain Sometimes,” written by Arthur Hamilton (who also wrote “Cry Me a River”). The lyric describes the natural highs and lows of a long relationship, maybe similar to VerPlanck’s own marriage and irreplaceable musical partnership with her late husband, musician/arranger Billy VerPlanck (1930-2009). “Rain Sometimes” ends with the words, “Love is not for sometimes, but for all time.” After hearing her sing live for the first time, I can certainly say Marlene VerPlanck is not for sometimes, but for all time.

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Category: Cabaret Reviews, New York City, New York City Cabaret Reviews, Regional

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