with JOSHUA WHITE (piano)
On CD and digital
Recently revived again on Broadway, 1948’s Kiss Me, Kate boasts one of Cole Porter’s most lauded scores, and its “So in Love” is one of the most passionate and earnest ballads in his whole oeuvre. The descriptions of devotion and intoxicating attraction could risk becoming suffocatingly obsessive and borderline masochistic (“…So taunt me and hurt me/ Deceive me, desert me/ I’m yours ’til I die…”). Fortunately, the charismatic Jonathan Karrant takes it thoughtfully and tenderly, the feelings feeling warm instead of overheated. He’s not tortured and surrendering control, but definitely comes across as being oh so in love and recognizing the grip romantic magnetism can take. And with his laser-beam focus and the superbly simpatico sole accompaniment of pianist Joshua White throughout their new Shadows Fall, there’s a lot of magnetism in interpreting songs of various genres and eras. All feel truly inhabited, confidently owned—from “(simply) The Best,” recently featured in the Broadway musical bio of Tina Turner, to time-tested standards and the hip, sly jazz of the late singer-songwriter Mose Allison’s “Stop This World.”
The versatile, canny Karrant sounds equally authentic with vintage material and latter-day pop, cabaret, and jazz sensibilities. While there are many aging standards here, they don’t seem like retro romps or just cozy nostalgia. Instead, they feel refreshingly relevant and owned in a present-day way. Sincerity trumps any risk of cavalier cuteness or cornballitis. Some indulgence in scat-singing is competent, pleasingly non-showboaty. There’s no musical clutter here.
Serious numbers that are introspective and/or lamenting are balanced by smile-inducers like James Taylor’s jaunty “Your Smiling Face” and the 90-year-old simplistic advice to just “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams (And Dream Your Troubles Away”). In all modes and moods, the pianist and singer are on the same page, seemingly responding to each other, taking turns as leader and follower. Intros and instrumental breaks can be longer than on most vocal albums, but it’s all to the good for such caring and colorful playing. Only a languid “Lush Life,” that titanic tale of woe by Billy Strayhorn, feels studied and mannered as things are drawn out, with almost every phrase parsed and picked apart as if examined with tweezers under a musical microscope and then toyed with to relish every word or note that could possibly be colored with emphasis. (But maybe it just comes from loving the song’s many articulate images and wanting to linger over them.)
A strikingly sensitive rendition of “Detour Ahead” paints a rich moment-by-moment consideration of a particular perspective with a song that fully realizes the more cerebral potential of this number’s below-the-surface drama. (This and “So in Love” are the immediate standouts for me.) In a lighter vein, the two performers put plenty of “thought” in “I Thought About You,” the Jimmy Van Heusen/ Johnny Mercer standard wherein absence makes the heart grow fonder. The piece itself grows fonder in their capable hands.
There are no liner notes in the packaging of the CD (self-produced, it’s the singer’s third full-length release; there are singles, too), and there’s no credit for the arrangements. While the songwriters are credited, there are two errors in addition to Mose Allison’s surname spelled wrong: “My Romance” from the 1935 Broadway extravaganza Jumbo—heard in an atypically driving, uptempo version—only lists its composer, Richard Rodgers, not naming lyricist Lorenz Hart. And the elegant, wistful treatment of “(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over” written by Allie Wrubel and Herb Magidson is misattributed to David Porter (no relation to the aforementioned Cole, but someone who recorded this 1939 gem in 1971).
With a baker’s dozen of well-chosen performances with outstanding piano work showing talented Joshua White reinforcing and expanding the impressions and moods that the lyrics state in words, I willingly and repeatedly fall under Shadows Fall‘s spell.