Jane Freilicher: Changing Scenes (Tibor de Nagy, 724 Fifth Ave, up through April 18). New and old work by one of my favorite American modernists, a chronically underrrated painter whose soft-spoken still lifes and landscapes reflect the influence of Pierre Bonnard and the cubists yet remain unmistakably American (TT).
Archives for April 4, 2009
Our Town (Barrow Street Theater, 27 Barrow St.). David Cromer’s revival of Thornton Wilder’s greatest play, which is still going strong two months into its off-Broadway run, is the best show in New York–if not America. Arrestingly and incisively unsentimental, it cuts to the heart of Wilder’s familiar tale of a small New England town and makes it as fresh as a news flash. I’m not normally fond of surprise endings, but Cromer has tucked one into this production, and it packs the punch of a bolt of lightning. Do not miss this show for any reason whatsoever (TT).
Blossom Dearie, Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid, two CDs). Readers of my recent tribute to “the hippest person in the world” should hasten to snag this British import, which couples her first three Verve LPs, Blossom Dearie, Give Him the Ooh-La-La, and Once Upon a Summertime, with an ultra-rare instrumental trio album from 1955 that shows why Dearie’s crystalline piano playing was as widely admired as her fey, delicately swinging vocals. The three Verve albums are accompanied by Ray Brown on bass, Herb Ellis or Mundell Lowe on guitar, and Jo Jones or Ed Thigpen on drums, which is maximally cool (TT).
Steven Suskin, The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations (Oxford, $55). Part history, part handbook, this staggeringly well-informed study of Robert Russell Bennett, Don Walker, Sid Ramin, and the other virtuoso technicians who scored the classic musicals of the pre-rock era is long overdue. If you read my posting about how The Letter was scored and want to know more about the mysterious process of turning a black-and-white piano part into a full-color orchestration, The Sound of Broadway Music will walk you through the drill with a minimum of technical obfuscation (TT).
Stewart O’Nan, Last Night at the Lobster. I don’t know how this tough, no-nonsense 2007 novella about the closing of a suburban chain restaurant got past me, but now that I’ve finally caught up with it, Stewart O’Nan is going straight to the top of my catch-up list of contemporary novelists. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much to it, but before long you realize that you’re reading a deeply serious moral tale whose protagonist, a Red Lobster manager whose marriage is in trouble, is one of the most memorable fictional characters to come to my attention in recent years. Short and wholly to the point, Last Night at the Lobster is a minor masterpiece (TT).
The Devil and Daniel Webster. William Dieterle’s bracingly dark 1941 screen version of Stephen Vincent Benét’s once-popular short story about a New England farmer who makes a Faustian bargain isn’t exactly forgotten–the Criterion Collection released a deluxe version in 2003–but it’s not nearly as well known as it ought to be. The cast, especially Walter Huston and Edward Arnold, is superb, and the atmospheric black-and-white cinematography borders on the miraculous. As for Bernard Herrmann’s score, which won him his only Oscar, it’s identical in quality to the music he wrote for Citizen Kane in the same year. If you missed this one on TCM the other day, pick up a copy of the DVD and revel in a first-class piece of work (TT).
Bud Shank, one of the great alto saxophonists of the cool-jazz era, outlived his fame–but not his talent. I was lucky enough to see one of his last New York appearances, a 2003 gig at the Jazz Standard about which I wrote in this space:
As I listened to Shank cleave the air with his flame-thrower tone and remembered that he was born in 1926, I asked myself, How does he do it? Of course it’s possible to play alto saxophone like that when you’re that old (I heard Benny Carter play as well–though with less stamina–when he was a decade older), but it’s a long, long way from possible to probable. And did that faze Shank? Not in the slightest. He stood up in front of a world-class rhythm section that was lobbing musical hand grenades into the crowd and soloed like a man half his age, if that….
Shank was working up to the end, literally: he finished recording an album the day before he died. Not a bad way to go.
If you don’t know Shank’s playing, this album is the place to start.
The JazzTimes obituary is here.
* * *
Here’s the trailer for Against the Tide, a 2008 documentary about Shank: