Eric Comstock & Sean Smith

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Eric Comstock and Sean Smith

Birdland, NYC, August 19, 2017

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes

Eric Comstockck

Eric Comstock and Sean Smith (usually with Barbara Fasano) have taken over the early Saturday evening residency formerly occupied by Barbara Carroll at New York’s Birdland. (On some Saturdays, Veronica Swift performs.) Offering welcome respite from politics and heat, the duo is entertaining, polished, and smart. Comstock’s illuminating anecdotes bridge a mélange of material from American Songbook, jazz, and theater.

Tonight we begin with “Jump for Joy” (Duke Ellington/Paul Francis Webster/Sid Kuller), the title song of a musical that never made it into New York. Despite the number’s brakeless-downhill-bike rhythm, Comstock manages to make it conversational. He excels at seeming to talk to us. “This Moment” (John Wallowitch) exemplifies the hallmark as he thoughtfully muses aloud, shakes his head, and sighs. It’s touching.

“Vivo Sonhando” (“Living on Dreams”) is the first of two languid selections by Antonio Carlos Jobim (English lyric: Susannah McCorkle). Words seem attached by bridging notes. Instrumental showcases a saucy right hand. Second is Barbara Fasano’s lush “Dindi” (lyric: Ray Gilbert). The vocalist delivers a sensual “jush” innate to sambas.

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Vibrato extends phrases like trailing one’s hand in water from a drifting boat.

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Step, hip, step, hip, step, hip. There’s something muscular about her investment here.

“Paradise with a Catch,” an original instrumental by Sean Smith, is cinematic. The composer/musician found himself alone between gigs in an Aix-en-Provence hotel room without air conditioning during a particularly hot July. One can feel it. The tune opens like a stretching cat. Curtains barely move with lazy breeze. Perhaps he’s playing solitaire. Ice has melted in a room service glass. He stands on a balcony lacking plans, unable to track time.

Like a slowing wind-up, it tiptoes out.

Especially successful uptempo songs include Richard Rodgers/Lorenz Hart’s “This Can’t Be Love” (The Boys from Syracuse) in a terrific, bouncy treatment utilizing call/response with Smith’s bass, and Oscar Brown, Jr.’s foot-tapping “Forbidden Fruit,” during which Comstock’s storytelling conjures Adam, Eve and the snake “…You all went and did it/Now you’re gonna git it….” “I love the tune,” he comments wryly, “because it emphasizes the lighter side of a vengeful God.” A Comstock/Fasano duet of “As Long As I Live” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler from a Cotton Club revue) is playful, teasing. There’s a wah-wah mute horn sound in Fasano’s voice. Piano and bass skibble down a path like Mutt and Jeff.

To my mind, an arrangement of Stephen Sondheim’s “Remember” is a highlight. Written for the decidedly period-set A Little Night Music, it loses not a drop of lyrical intention while becoming completely contemporary in perspective and musical coloration: “…You acquiesced and the rest (deadpan pause) is a blank.”

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.