Some of the best known songs of Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and Lorenz Hart (1895-1943) were the impetus for this Carolina Summer Music Festival concert that took place in the James A. Gray Auditorium in the Old Salem Visitor Center. The performance of a dozen tunes took place twice on Saturday night — once at 7:00 p.m. and again at 9:30; this reviewer attended the earlier of the two.
The band, which has given concerts devoted to several American composers over the last couple of years, including George Gershwin and Cole Porter, consists of Martha Bassett (vocals), Matt Kendrick (bass and arranger), Federico Pivetta (piano), John Wilson (drums), Wally West (tenor saxophone), Ken Wilmot (trumpet), and Jacqui Carrasco (violin). Incidentally, Carrasco is also a co-artistic advisor for the Carolina Summer Music Festival, of which these popular American concerts are a part.
Each musician is a distinguished artist in his or her own world, both classical and jazz, and the different combinations of instruments kept each selection fresh and interesting. For example, the opening tune, “There’s a Small Hotel,” featured muted trumpet and violin backed up by the rhythm section (bass, drums, and piano). This rather laid-back tune served as a nice opening to the evening; Wilmot’s trumpet and Carrasco’s violin meshed well in the harmonic arrangement of the head; Pivetta joined each of these two for a turn in the solo spotlight.
“Have You Met Miss Jones” picked up the tempo a bit, and the sound of West’s funky sax was a nice addition to the trumpet and violin. Pivetta joined these three melodists’ in another winning set of solos. An instrumental version of “Manhattan” featured Pivetta, Kendrick and Wilson laying down a groove before they were joined by the other three instrumentalists.
Bassett came to the stage for the melancholic “My Romance.” Her voice is particularly well suited to slow ballads, and her heart-felt delivery of this tune was lovely. A great addition was when Carrasco joined the singer in the closing verse. West joined Bassett for “It Never Entered My Mind,” another ballad that featured great delicate sax work. Everyone joined in an up-tempo arrangement of “Blue Moon” that included all seven musicians and closed out the first half of the evening.
The second half started with a drum solo from Wilson, which ushered in an instrumental arrangement of “This Can’t Be Love”; each of the six instrumentalists took a short turn as soloist in the spotlight. The full ensemble came together again in a sturdy and full arrangement of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was”; Pivetta, Carrasco, and West all took solos.
Bassett joined in for a touching rendition of “My Funny Valentine,” made even more poignant by the trumpet and some particularly nice piano work by Pivetta. The singer sang a more upbeat “I Could Write a Book” with violin and sax.
Bassett’s singing of “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered” showed the singer’s ability to spin out long lines in a slow tempo. This version featured only the soloist and the rhythm section, which lent a more introverted and intimate touch. The evening’s performance concluded with “The Lady Is a Tramp,” which had the whole band backing Bassett.
The rhythm section was rock solid throughout the evening, and Kendrick’s arrangements were creative and effective. Pivetta’s playing was especially impressive for its inventiveness, and West’s obvious enjoyment of the band’s playing was infectious.
Three more concerts close out this summer’s festival: the sold-out “Summer Music” on Thursday; “Carolina Scrapbook” on Saturday (8/29) at 11:00 a.m. with WXII’s Lanie Pope and the Festival Brass; and later that same day, the concluding “Tango!” at 7:30 p.m.
See our Triad calendar for details.