Sunday, October 15, 2006

Frances Faye revisited

You can't really go wrong with frantic bongos. Within a minute or so of Terese Genecco and her "little big band" taking the stage at the Metropolitan Room Saturday night, and as the manic percussion was launching the festivities, it was obvious the show would generate more wattage—and fun—than an entire evening of Rufus Wainwright at Carnegie Hall.

Following a tip from the esteemed Adam Feldman, we trekked to the Metropolitan Room (a very nice place to see a show, by the way) intrigued by the prospect of a singer brazen enough to pay tribute to Frances Faye, a spirited but now largely forgotten nightclub singer whose career spanned the 1930s–’70s. Most of Faye's dozen albums are out of print, and my introduction to her came only a few years ago through Caught in the Act, which documents a Vegas set complete with oddball banter. Oddly enough, Faye is absent from James Gavin's indispensable book on the New York cabaret scene.

As Genecco makes it clear, she doesn't try to impersonate Faye. Rather, she and her smokin' seven-piece band attempt to recreate the mood at Faye's shows; they use the same arrangements (many by Russell Garcia), replicate some of Faye's nuttier flights of fancies (like tweaking the lyrics to "If I Was a Rich Man" to "If I Had a Kilo") and Genecco actually uses some of Faye's between-songs bawdy banter. During the faster numbers, I was reminded Keely Smith but also of Anita O'Day's hard-swinging Songbook albums of the 1950s and 1960s, especially Anita O'Day Swings Cole Porter with Billy May and Anita O'Day and Billy May Swing Rodgers and Hart (the latter produced by Garcia). Genecco's diction was impeccable and she never got thrown off the runaway-train melodies; unlike Wainwright, who looked and sounded as if he was struggling against the songs, Genecco—who also played the piano on some tunes—was never less than supremely comfortable with the material. And the band looked as if it was having a blast, a statement in and of itself. Let's just hope New Yorkers will catch on enough to make it worthwhile for Genecco and her band to come back soon.

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