Russ Lorenson: Standard Time: Live in New York

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Russ Lorenson

Standard Time: Live in New York

June 27, 2024

Reviewed by Shannon Hunt

Russ Lorenson’s CD Standard Time: Live in New York is a musical time capsule; its melodies and Lorenson’s velvety voice evoke a 1950s cabaret room or supper club. Its nostalgia, though, goes beyond just the musical stylings: it was recorded live at a show at Lorenson’s debut show in 2008 at the beloved and now-shuttered Metropolitan Room. In the years that followed, Lorenson was diagnosed with cancer of the tonsils; a slew of chemotherapy and radiation treatments led to remission but permanently damaged his vocal cords and ended his performing career. He can still speak briefly, but his legendary tenor voice survives only in his recordings.

That makes the release of this album all the more poignant. It seamlessly blends the timeless elements of jazz and swing with an infectious energy that rejuvenates these classic musical styles. With charismatic charm, Lorenson’s retro crooner style evokes Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin while remaining uniquely his own, without imitation or pretense.

Even though the CD’s familiar rhythms harken back to the American Songbook’s golden age, all 15 songs on the album were written well after the Songbook’s heyday. This was a deliberate choice as he explained to the crowd: “I love me some Cole Porter and I love the Gershwins and Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer and all the rest of them, but great songs are still being written today.” Speaking of contemporary songwriters, such as John Pizzarelli and Michael Feinstein and his own music director Kelly Park, he said, “This show is to answer the musical question: Who says the Great American Songbook stopped being written in 1959?” It’s still unfinished, he noted, and new pages were being added continuously.

The album opens with the lively “Raise the Roof” penned by Andrew Lippa for his Off-Broadway production The Wild Party; it’s a fun, toe-tapping tune that instantly sets a feel-good atmosphere. Backed by his top-notch band, Lorenson navigates a diverse repertoire that offers each musician a chance to shine. The swinging “Forever, for Now” (Harry Connick Jr./Ramsey McLean) highlights Bryan Carmody on percussion and Tom Hubbard on bass, and in  Maury Yeston’s “Danglin’,” Terrence Brewer’s artistry on guitar takes center stage. As pianist, Park is magic on the keys, particularly on the songs he wrote: “Fools in Love,” which Lorenson names his personal favorite, and the bossa nova-infused “Diamond in the Sky,” a takeoff on “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” that Park had written for his then-young daughter.

Lorenson’s choices are often striking and sometimes unexpected, such as Lionel Richie’s classic “Hello.” This slow, romantic love song is transformed into a brisk and breezy jazz number thanks to Park’s big and bold arrangement. It’s an unusual creative risk that pays off and shows how timeless melodies can be reinvented and celebrated anew.

In essence, Standard Time: Live in New York pays homage to the past and celebrates the ongoing evolution of American popular music. It proves that the timeless spirit of the American Songbook transcends any particular era and will happily always be an unfinished volume of work that continues to expand for new generations to enjoy.

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