Jazz at Birdland: Melissa Errico

January 17, 2023

There are certain performers who take themed shows to a special level thanks to their assiduous research about and emotional involvement with their subject.  Melissa Errico attained that with her February 10-14 Birdland Theater show based on her recent highly acclaimed album, Out of the Dark: The Film Noir Project (Three Graces Music: 2022).

Errico’s commentary gave her audience background on the concept of film noir, the feelings that the darkness of the story lines evoke, how it translates into life experiences, and why it had an attraction for her.  She selected songs, some from noir films and some that simply carry a noir feeling.  To enhance her presentation of the material she sang, she imagined herself as a vocalist in a club from a film like Gilda, alluring in a black form-fitting sequined gown with long hair tossed with abandon while singing songs that speak of love, often unfulfilled.

Her band included pianist Tedd Firth saxophonist David Mann, guitarist Russell Malone, bassist David Finck and drummer Eric Halvorson, with trumpeter/vocalist Benny Benack III joining for the latter part of the set. The musicians provided a perfect complement to Errico’s vocalizing, absolutely nailing Firth’s imaginative arrangements.

On the album, she has programmed the 17 selections to form a story arc from the love lost expressed in “Angel Eyes,” through various stages of love and the lack thereof to the hopefulness of “Again.”  For her performance during the first set on Valentine’s Day, she included 11 tunes from the album: “It Was Written in the Stars”, “Angel Eyes”, “With Every Breath I Take”, “Haunted Heart,” “Laura,” “Sooner or Later,” “Checkin’ My Heart,” “Farewell My Lovely,” (with lyrics added by Adam Gopnick to David Shire’s “Marlowe’s Theme”), “Blame It on My Youth”, “Shadows and Light”, and “Again.” She added another half-dozen that fit into the theme: “Last Night When We Were Young”, “The Ballad of the Birdland Murde”,  “Surrey With a Fringe on Top” — performed initially as usually approached and evolving into a noirish number — “If I Were a Bell”, a vocal duet with Benack, “The Gentleman Is a Dope”, and new lyrics to an unnamed tune by Michel Legrand.

The Birdland Theater proved to be a perfect setting for this show. Errico’s performance was totally engrossing.  She is a superb vocalist, mostly known as a Broadway and cabaret singer, but one who adapts well to the jazz-inflected charts by Firth.  Her knowledgeable and informative commentary enhanced the effectiveness of the show.  Having wide experience in musical theater gives her an ability to completely absorb herself in the lyrics that she is singing, giving each piece the feeling of a playlet.  

It is likely that Errico shall revive this magic set in the future.  Keep your eyes open for an opportunity to get lost in Errico’s world of noir, and be sure to seek out her album, which was reviewed in the July/August 2022 issue of Jersey Jazz.–JOE LANG

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