MORE THAN A SONG
On CD and digital
If, like me, you’re drinking a toast to Cole Porter this week on his birthdate, and thus are on the lookout for his evergreens sung by artists perhaps new to you, see CeCe Gable’s More Than a Song. This vocalist takes on three of them in her 10-track playful, relaxed set: a pouty, perplexed “What Is This Thing Called Love?” (1929, from the musical Wake Up and Dream); a determined “I Concentrate on You” (introduced in the film Broadway Melody of 1940 from the year 1940, of course); and a mix of bravado and resignation for “It’s All Right with Me” (from Can-Can, bowing in 1953). The singer maintains interest through intimacy, sometimes getting almost whispery. Imagine lounging in a hammock and swaying as she takes her sweet time. And how sweet it is! “I Concentrate on You” concentrates on blissfully beaming confidence and serenity during moments when naysayers challenge love’s viability. And she takes in the ambivalence and darker hues of the other two. Porter’s well-chosen words about the frailties of romance and romantics are nicely shaded and well considered by this vocalist in her fourth outing (but the only one widely available beyond her own website).
Well-known works by other golden age songwriters are similarly blessed with attention, with Johnny Mercer’s canon getting two shots via “I Thought About You” (music by Jimmy Van Heusen) and “My Shining Hour” (music by Harold Arlen). And Arlen’s melodic gifts are also on display in zippier mode with “As Long as I Live” with Ted Koehler’s words. The interpreter can be conversational or whimsical, direct or seductively mysterious. CeCe Gable’s jazz instincts are in evidence, but embellishment is subtle when bending notes or letting words slip out half-spoken/half-sung. Much is imbued with a quiet confidence that has the patina of cool serenity.
And the vocals are framed dazzlingly by the musicians, who really get prominence. Referencing the Can-Can song title, in the muscular instrumental break she shouts out to the band to take another chorus because “it’s all right with me.” Brian Landrus wails on sax and clarinet, and Sylvia Cuenca provides low-key percussion, but some of the tastiest work in the piano-less group comes from the two co-arrangers. They are Roni Ben-Hur, with evocative guitar work, and veteran bassist Harvie S, demonstrating prominence and reminding me of his long history of demonstrating the versatility of that instrument, playing lots of melody lines and accenting moods, with memorable album tracks to his credit where he’s the only musician with a singer. That’s much more than just “support” and keeping the rhythm.
The most rewardingly explored lyric of all is “Detour Ahead” from the 1940s (officially credited to then-bandmates Johnny Frigo, Herb Ellis, and Lou Carter—but later generally acknowledged to be almost entirely Frigo’s work). It’s fragile but intelligent, unspooling questions, advice, and observations line by luxuriously slow line. The “smooth road” mentioned in the text never sounded smoother.
From the trio of Porter perennials to the dash of snuggly bossa nova with Antonio Carlos Jobim/ Ray Gilbert’s “Fotografia,” the songs on More Than a Song are more than diverting—they captivate.