Catherine Russell & Her Sextet

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Catherine Russell & Her Sextet

Birdland, NYC, December 17, 2015

Reviewed by Marilyn Lester for Cabaret Scenes

Catherine-Russell-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212The performance arena is a natural habitat for singer Catherine Russell, the daughter of jazz singer Carline Ray and musician/arranger Luis Russell. Russell is born to it— she’s completely at ease on stage.

She’s also a generous performer, giving her band members ample time to shine individually and collectively. Their swinging “There’ll Be Some Changes Made” led into Russell’s first number, an equally swinging “Them There Eyes.” Like the lyric touts, Russell sparkles and bubbles. Her movements are a natural choreography that make her a joy to watch as well as listen to.

Russell and Musical Director and guitarist Matt Munisteri, along with Mark Shane (piano), Tal Ronen (bass), Mark McLean (drums), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet) and Evan Arntzen (reeds), presented a beautifully balanced evening that moved easily between traditional jazz and syncopated New Orleans music, blues and the American Songbook. “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me” (as recorded by Billie Holiday and Teddy Wilson) at the top of the show demonstrated Russell’s excellent phrasing and musicality.

She also performed the Holiday/Wilson version of “Swing Brother, Swing.” And since 2015 is Holiday’s centenary, “You’re My Thrill” was also offered; each paid tribute to Holiday without being a carbon copy of her style.

Blues numbers included “Let Me Be the First to Know” and “Blues in the Dark,” and the saucy “Aged and Mellow Blues” and “You’ve Got the Right Key, But the Wrong Keyhole.” Russell comports herself well in this genre, even if she lacks the earthy low-down approach of a Bessie Smith. On a syncopated note, a very animated and upbeat “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” was a crowd-pleaser. Harlem received homage with “Long About Midnight” and “Harlem on My Mind.” Homage is a large part of Russell’s presentation; it goes without saying that her talented father and mother would be recognized in “Lucille” (Louis Armstrong’s much-loved spouse), written by Russell senior, originally sung by Ms. Ray, and lovingly delivered by daughter Catherine.

Marilyn Lester

Marilyn Lester left journalism and commercial writing behind nearly two decades ago to write plays. That branch in the road led to screenwriting, script-doctoring, dramaturgy and producing for the stage. Marilyn has also co-authored, as well as edited, books. It seemed the only world of words she hadn’t conquered was criticism, an opportunity that presented itself via Theater Pizzazz. Marilyn has since sought to widen her scope in this form of writing she especially relishes. Marilyn is a member of the Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild, Women in the Arts and Media and The League of Professional Theater Women.