Lisa Ferraro's Serenading the Moon opens up with an absolutely devastating duet between her and pianist John DiMartino. I've heard a rash of really good American Songbook vocal CDs in the last few years, but that cut alone stands clearly out among them all…not in terms of spectacularity, leave that for pro bowl halftime diversions, but for sheer art, a creation as affecting purely on as many aesthetic points as emotional. I uttered a soft "Wow!" as that cut, I Wished on the Moon, wound down and then hastened to read the liner notes, to see if the entire disc was duets. Somewhat disappointed, I found it wasn't, but, as Everything I Love cut in with a just as compelling a bass/vocal duo letting into a slow introduction of the rest of the band, I realized it didn't matter; whatever was ahead was going to be a sensual feast straight from Bachus and Eros. And I was right.
A very large part of that is attributable to Houston Person's production work. Ferraro had collaborated with Person before this and thus knew his special gifts, recruiting the well known tenor sax player to captain Serenading and, lord, was that ever the right choice. In a career that has stretched to many genres of music, this has to be the capstone and hopefully the first of many interpretations of The Songbook 'twixt he and she 'cause that's Ferraro's true home, and this disc sends her straight to the top ranks. Person steps in with note-perfect lines that will remind many of Dexter Gordon's moody work in the film 'Round Midnight, but he also chose the CD's sidemen and couldn't have been more perspicacious.
The arrangements, though, deserve special mention as well, and though they're not credited on the CD, John DiMartino's is the hand behind them, molding every note to wrap around Ferraro's abilities yet ensuring her entrancing wiles remain front and center at all times. David Kowalski mixed and balanced everything to a fare thee well……though I woulda given just a tad more amplitude to Ray Drummond's bass work: it has a sinuous grace that both contrasts and buttresses Lisa's interpretations. Teach Me Tonight is the most exhilarating cut, You'd Better Love Me the swingin'est, but I have to say I favor the smoky slow tracks the most. They find the perfect mid-point between jazz and torch musics. In many ways, in fact, the combination of Ferraro and Person/DiMartino has much in common with Linda Ronstadt and Nelson Riddle in Linda's still jaw-dropping set of the best torch songs ever committed to vinyl (Serenading does without the symphonics, of course, as the expense would have cancelled the project before it ever began). Lisa's work, though, is very much different, more all-up personal, closer to the bone, and in it I think I may have finally found the best exposition of why darklit smoky piano-bar environments were once so popular with my father's and grandfather's generations.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2014, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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