The songs of Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim are the topic of singer Cheryl Bentyne‘s latest album. Almost 40 years with The Manhattan Transfer, she always found the time to release several solo albums in between touring and recording. You can find my review of her “Lost Love Songs” album on these pages. The disc features a brilliant take on the Leon Russell classic “This Masquerade”.
Her new endeavor has her Manhattan Transfer singing partner Janis Siegel as special guest, as well as Tierney Sutton, Mark Kibble and Armand Hutton. The album also features a string quartet and individual tracks were arranged by Jamieson Trotter, Bevan Manson, John Beasley, Kevin Axt, Mark Kibble, and Eli Brueggemann.
Her album opens with “I Remember” (from the 1978 “Evening Primrose”), accompanied gracefully by pianist John Beasley. Now even though this to me is forever associated with Dianne Reeves’ version, Cheryl manages to come up with a sympathetically understated interpretation. That Sondheim’s songs have always been perfect for a jazz setting/arrangement, is best showcased here with “Sand” from the unfilmed “Singing Out Loud” from the early 90s. The ethereal atmosphere of the song is captured by Cheryl’s strong and convincing performance. And I just love John Beasley’s playing on this one, too. “The Ladies Who Lunch”, originally introduced by Elaine Stritch in 1970 and later inhaled by the strongly missed Blossom Dearie, turns out to be a fun showcase for the three ladies Cheryl, Janis Siegel, and Tierney Sutton. There is also a solo version without Janis and Tierney as a bonus track which also works pretty good.
I like the sparse version of “Everybody Says Don’t” which only has Kevin Axt on bass and Dave Tull on drums and Cheryl safely and confidently ripping through the lyrics without losing base. Originally from 1962 and “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum”, “Comedy Tonight” for me always had something Joni Mitchell-ish about it. The strings here work pretty well and turn the piece into an exotic, slightly bewildering poem with Cheryl making it completely her own with all the twists and turns. The beautiful, intense, and melancholic “I Wish I Could Forget You”, typical Sondheim (from 1994, originally performed by Donna Murphy), is mastered with bravura by Cheryl and her pianist Tom Zink. Could it be that her voice is getting better and better with each release?
The sweetness continues with the still magical “Not A Day Goes By” (from the 1981 “Merrily We Roll Along”) which suits Cheryl perfectly well. She brilliantly includes the “and until I’ll die/I’ll die day after day after day after day after day after day after day” in fervent fashion without sounding too sketchy during those repetitions. I also like the fading piano arrangement here. The strings are back again for “Move On” (from “Sunday In The Park With George”, 1984), an autumnal atmosphere caressing the piece while Cheryl is narrating the story. I’m glad that she asked Mark Kibble (of Take 6) to arrange and sing on “Send In The Clowns” – it could have turned out to be a too frumpy affair with this often-recorded classic. But the cool and sexy vocals and the equally fancy percussion (by Tom McCauley) save this from becoming just another cover. Cheryl floats over and above the melody, always making sure to stay on course without falling into the kitsch trap, but sure enough capturing the disappointment of the story and its main character.