“Schedule permitting” I wrote in the previous exhibit, “I hope to work in a bit of blogging.” The schedule did not permit. The Oregon expedition was a jam-packed (ahem) four days that allowed the Rifftides staff (plus one) time to sleep a little and to eat now and then, often on the run. It’s life on the road.
I hope tomorrow to bring you a compact account of the Jazz at Newport Festival on the Oregon coast. For now, let me tell you about Rebecca Kilgore and Dave Frishberg Thursday evening at the Touché in Portland. They performed two sets at the entrance end of that long, narrow restaurant. I have heard better pianos, but rarely better piano playing than Frishberg’s that night. I cannot recall Becky Kilgore in finer form, live or on record.
Their first set consisted of 18 songs from the stockpile of hundreds that the two have amassed in their 15 years or so of collaboration. A few highlights:
—The richness of Frishberg’s chord changes behind Kilgore on “A Fine Romance.”
—Kilgore’s blues inflections in her second chorus of “Easy Street” and the entirety of “Baby All the Time.”
—The relaxed swing phrasing of Kilgore’s chorus following Frishberg’s meaty piano solo in “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me,” with the counterpoint of her rhythmic shoulder hunches and Frishberg swaying gently on the bench.
—The verse of “You’re a Lucky Guy.” I’ve known the song since I first heard Louis Armstrong’s 1939 recording, but had no idea that it has a verse. “I love verses,” Frishberg said later. He and Kilgore have sensors that seek out rare verses. The one to “I’m Shooting High” is about singing in the shower—sample lyric: “I begin by making up my mind that it’s my lucky day”—an ideal vehicle for Kilgore’s essentially sunny performance disposition.
—The set ended with eight Irving Berlin songs, including some nearly forgotten, “After You Get What You Want, You Don’t Want What You Get,” for instance, and “Everybody Knew But Me,” which has a great verse and is not sunny. The Berlinfest also included “It’s Over,” “Lazy,” “Better Luck Next Time,” “The Best Thing for You” and “Russian Lullaby.” Berlin’s versatility and variety were amazing. What his songs have in common is that they have hardly anything in common. But that night they had Kilgore and Frishberg.
Without going into a play-by-play of the late set at the Touché, I’ll simply tell you that as good as the first set was, the second was better. Swing, phrasing, subtlety, mutual support and interaction, spontaneous key changes—everything worked. From Frishberg’s stompin’ solo and Kilgore’s vocalese riffs in “Stompin’ at The Savoy” through his Ellington references and her exquisite phrasing in “I’m Just a Lucky So and So” to the best “Detour Ahead” I’ve heard since Mary Ann McCall to their melodic variations in “My Ideal,” it was one of the most perfect performances I’ve ever heard from two people.
When it was over, I asked Kilgore if the set felt as good as it sounded out front. “Oh, yes,” she said, gazing into the distance with a dreamy look, as if she missed it already.