Club Review: Danny Bacher Quartet
There is something special in the sound, the style, and the phrasing of a horn player who sings; I think back to my favorites of the past like Chet Baker, Jack Sheldon, and even Louis Armstrong. They brought a unique musicality and lightness to their delivery while paying attention to the lyrics, both narratively and rhythmically. In that grand tradition, Danny Bacher brought his quartet last Friday night to “Jazz Nights at Baretto,” upstairs at the Fasano Restaurant on West 49th Street, and put his stamp on a nice selection of songs from the Great American Songbook, along with some rarities and a few well-crafted originals. The musicians who supplied first-rate support throughout the evening were Allen Farnham on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, and Ben Saporito on drums; Bacher supplied tasty soprano saxophone as well.
The well-appointed room was a bit of a disappointment since it was filled with a younger, entitled crowd more interested in listening to each other than the terrific entertainment on the stage. Bacher didn’t let the thankless circumstances deter him from providing two delightful, classy, and entertaining sets while I was there. Fortunately there were enough in the crowd with the taste and politeness to respond with appropriate enthusiasm.
He opened with “On the Street Where You Live” (Frederick Lowe, Alan Jay Lerner, from My Fair Lady) which was a perfect introduction, keeping it light and inviting while swinging like crazy. A fun take on “Witchcraft” (Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh) that managed to avoid the smarmy, lounge-y sound in which too many young singers get mired, followed. Michael Bublé, et al, would do well to seat themselves ringside and learn how it should be done. “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Harry Warren, Al Dubin, from Dames) featured some great scat singing (which he returned to again and again as the evening progressed); it was assured, unforced, and totally natural to his sound—his voice echoing the runs that he might have provided on his sax.
Bacher traveled back to September 1917, for his next number, with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s “At the Jazz Band Ball” (Nick LaRocca, Larry Shields) with additional lyrics by Johnny Mercer that were added in the 1950s. This was a highpoint of the night, with the expected Dixie/ragtime rhythms happily overlayed with some decidedly rock & roll chords, and the singer making a feast of the “ancient” words. His beautifully measured, mid-tempo “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” (Hugh Martin, Ralph Blaine, from Meet Me in St. Louis) made me long to hear an all-out ballad but I realized that this was neither the venue nor the audience for it, so that would have to wait for another time. He unearthed a 1946 Nat King Cole gem, “The Best Man” (Fred Wise, Roy Alfred), that highlighted his wit and intelligence with a good lyric, and his ability to make the set a captivating history lesson as well.