Steven Stolen once again moved out of a comfort zone for his Jazz Kitchen debut, amping up his usual soulful delivery as an art song stylist. Even so, on July 26 in the presence of an over-full house of supporters he retained his signature meticulous enunciation, caressing each word to its fullest context within the entirety of each song.
After following Stolen's performances of a variety of stages throughout the years, particularly the one-of-a-kind Meridian Song Project, and experiencing these programs informed by his scholarship and easy audience repartee, I came to the Jazz Kitchen eager to meet yet another new Steven Stolen. Throughout an eclectic career, Stolen has emerged from a classical repertoire to embrace the Great American Songbook, American folksongs, hymns, carols, songs from Broadway shows and musical films from the 1920s to the ‘50s. So why not jazz?
With expert arrangements by Gary Walters, also serving as pianist in consort with bassist Thomas Brinkley and drummer Kenny Phelps, Stolen opened with an upbeat "Slow Boat to China" and a bit of stand-up, confessing [as if we didn’t know], “I specialize in slow songs,” before launching into a fast "Give Me the Simple Life" and a bluesy set of Sinatra that included a loungey Hoagy Carmichael and a ballad remembered from Stolen’s childhood. Throughout the evening we got early Berlin, Gershwin, Mancini, Bacharach – with Stolen crediting Walters’ arrangements, “Gary loves the ‘70s idiom and really gets it.” We also got a guest appearance by vocalist Erin Benedict, whose ease loosened up the trio and opened the segue for the "You and Me" duet from Victor/Victoria —“an alto singing with a tenor,” she quipped.
And then I went home with Stolen’s new album Time After Time, concert arrangements of American standards by Richard Walters. [“The other Walters,” as Stolen differentiates.] Listening to the album with the sound of jazz-inspired Stolen floating in my head, I have to express admiration for the leap. Stolen had to change just about every way he approaches a song to accomplish his Jazz Kitchen debut. With Walters at the piano, Time After Time is a leisurely stroll along a sunlit path, tunes shimmering into each other, starting with the album’s namesake Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn song from the film It Happened in Brooklyn.
Gershwin on the album is not Gershwin at the Jazz Kitchen. As Richard Walters explains his approach to the songs for time after time, “These arrangements are fully composed,; they are not improvised. They are an “art song treatment” of American Standards.” And they are wonder-filled in a searching kind of way. Find the album at the Jazz Kitchen.