This new CD doesn’t have a false note in it, just tremendously satisfying music.
I don’t recall the first time I heard Hilary Gardner sing, with or without Ehud Asherie’s accompaniment, but I was smitten — in a nice legal Platonic way — by the blending of her tender, expressive voice and his elegant, sometimes raucous piano. Singular individualists, they combine in wonderful synergy, and this CD expertly reproduces what it’s like to hear marvelous improvisations in a small club full of attentive, sympathetic listeners, leaning forward to catch every nuance. The sound is spectacularly fine — by which I mean natural, and you don’t have to leave your house to “be there.” (Although seeing them at Mezzrow on West Tenth Street has been one of my great pleasures for a few years.)
Both Hilary and Ehud are splendid connoisseurs of the best songs, and this recital shows off their sensitivity to fine melodies and telling lyrics: SHADOW WALTZ by Al Dubin and Harry Warren; SWEET AND SLOW by the same two masters in a completely different mood; the very sad Rodgers and Hart A SHIP WITHOUT A SAIL; the ancient but still lively AFTER YOU’VE GONE with the never-heard second chorus; I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, by Harold Arlen and Truman Capote; Irving Berlin’s immensely touching I USED TO BE COLOR BLIND; the wicked EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, again by Hart and Rodgers; the sweet command to MAKE SOMEONE HAPPY, by Adolph Green, Betty Comden, and Jule Styne; the wistful SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES, by John Jacob Loeb and Carmen Lombardo.
Song-scholars will find connections to Fred Astaire, Diane Keaton, Arthur Godfrey, Sophie Tucker, Lee Wiley, Fats Waller, Busby Berkeley, and two dozen others, but this is not a CD of homages to the Ancestors nor to their recordings. Although the majority of the songs are enshrined in “the Great American Songbook,” this CD isn’t an exercise in reverential mummification. No, the magic that Hilary and Ehud bring to these possibly venerable pages is to sing and play the songs for real — asking the questions, “What meaning might be found here? What feelings can we share with you?” And, ultimately, “Why are these songs so affecting in themselves?”
I’ve celebrated Ehud a great deal on this blog: his ability to create a Frolick all by himself, evoking both Bud Powell and Francois Rilhac, his touch precise but warm, his marvelous ability to think of anything and then to play it, his eye for the perfect swinging epigram a master archer’s.
Hilary was a wonderfully complete singer when I first heard her. She has outdone herself here. I find myself reaching for adjectives: is her voice “warm,” “creamy,” “light,” “rich”? Then I give up, because it sounds as if I am a blindfolded contestant on a cooking show assessing a pound cake.
In plain English: she swings, she understands the lyrics, she improvises splendidly but without theatricality, and when she descends into a song, even if it’s one she’s sung a hundred times before, she comes to the surface, immensely naturally, showing us something we’ve never thought of before. She’s witty but not clever; emotive but not melodramatic, tender but not maudlin. Her approach is warm, delicate, unhurried.
When Hilary and Ehud did a brief tour of the Pacific Northwest not long ago, they visited KNKX, did an interview about the CD, and performed three songs in the studio — SWEET AND SLOW, I NEVER HAS SEEN SNOW, and AFTER YOU’VE GONE. Here‘s the link to watch the videos and hear the interview.
You can find THE LATE SET at iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, and the Anzic Records site. I urge you to find and purchase a physical disc, because one of the great pleasures — hidden inside — is Hilary’s own pitch-perfect evocation of “the late set” in what I presume is a New York City jazz club.
This is extraordinary music. How delightful that it exists in this century.
May your happiness increase!