It was a case of a bit too much of a good thing Wednesday night at the Kravis Center, as Maestro Bob Lappin and the Palm Beach Pops presented An Evening with Rodgers and Hart, with guests the John Pizzarelli Quartet returning for their second appearance in as many years.
Although the ingredients were all there for another great night at the Pops — a great subject and exceptional guest performers backed up by some of the best musicians in the Southeast — the program, which clocked in at just under 21/2 hours (including a brief intermission). The program ended up getting bogged down by its sheer weight, leaving many in the audience somewhat weary just as the guests were hitting on all cylinders. Certainly, a little editing in the first half would have gone a long way toward balancing the evening and allowing more time for vocals.
With all due respect to the wonderful melodies of Richard Rodgers, when the lyrics are by Lorenz Hart you are dealing with songs that need to be sung to be fully appreciated. And with a catalogue encompassing 28 musicals and more than 500 songs, is there really a reason to present anything except Rodgers and Hart tunes?
For example, the 10-minute version of Old Man River and its lengthy bass and drum solos (admittedly a Pops favorite, but written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II) should have been saved for another night.
As good as these players are — and they are very good — it’s just way too much for even the most loyal jazz enthusiast to endure, let alone the average listener.
All that being said, there were a number of bright spots in the first half.
The instrumental take on the classic My Funny Valentine opened the show in grand style, with a great solo by trumpeter Scott Melamerson.
Also notable were the duet by Melamerson and fellow trumpeter John Amoroso on Manhattan, which featured some tasteful reed lines that gave the song an appropriate big-city feel; and a pair of beautiful performances by a pair of Saras — Sara Stout on flute and Sara Fletcher on oboe — on a gorgeous Dick Leib arrangement of Lover (conducted by Pops drummer Frank Derrick with Lappin on piano).
Once the second act finally arrived, Pizzarelli, a superb jazz guitarist and vocalist, proved to be a perfect choice for the assignment at hand, wrapping his warm, smoky voice around arguably some of the best-written lyrics of the 20th century.
This was very familiar territory for Pizzarelli & Co., who scored big with a number of selections from the Grammy-nominated 2008 CD, With a Song in My Heart: John Pizzarelli Sings the Music of Richard Rodgers. Ably assisted by pianist Larry Fuller, brother Martin Pizzarelli on bass and drummer Tony Tedesco, the guitarist kicked off the set with a lively version of one R&H’s first hits, Mountain Greenery, segueing right into This Can’t Be Love from The Boys From Syracuse. The quartet blended extremely well with the larger ensemble, with the smaller group doing most of the heavy lifting in the second half — and doing it very well.
On breakneck novelty numbers such as I Like To Recognize The Tune as well as sumptuous ballads such as Nobody’s Heart, She Was Too Good To Me and Easy To Remember, which featured a sweet violin signature by Concert Master Mary Rowell on the tag line, Pizzarelli delivered every ounce of the vocal. He also won the crowd with an engaging stage presence and patter that was actually pretty funny stuff.
An upbeat reading of The Lady Is A Tramp closed out an evening that was indeed long — but not without merit — on an up note.
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