[JPL] A Cheeky Cabaret Voice Sings the Set Eclectic

r durfee rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 22 18:57:33 EDT 2007

October 22, 2007
Music Review | Paula West 
A Cheeky Cabaret Voice Sings the Set Eclectic 
The San Francisco jazz singer Paula West opens her
stylistically all-encompassing new nightclub show at
the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel with a sly,
swinging version of “Something Good,” composed by
Richard Rodgers for the film version of “The Sound of
Music.” But as her alter ego marvels at her own good
karma, Ms. West signals mischievously that because she
has always misbehaved and gotten away it, she doesn’t
deserve such luck. 

Ms. West is accompanied by the George Mesterhazy
Quartet, a limber ensemble whose leader, pianist and
arranger shares her passion for taking songs in
unexpected directions and deepening their meanings
without wrenching them out of shape. With each
engagement Ms. West, who made her Oak Room debut in
1996, displays more courage, maturity, interpretive
insight and vocal confidence. She and the quartet,
which also includes Ed Cherry on guitar, Tony Reedus
on drums and Barak Mori on bass, are a match made in
pop-jazz heaven. Why a major record company hasn’t
snatched them up is beyond me. 

A decade ago Ms. West’s dark, clotted vocal sound was
her main calling card. Today the power of that sound
is matched by a probing musical intelligence informed
by a cheeky feminist attitude. In several songs sexual
roles are blithely reversed.

In her version of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s
All Right,” she is the free-spirited troubadour who
hits the road after telling a lover he has wasted her
precious time. The narrator of “The Goodbye Song,”
adapted from a Pearl Bailey number that was mostly
spoken by Ms. Bailey, is a lusty serial monogamist
whose only pangs about splitting up with her latest
lover are her worries about “breaking in the next guy
and the one after that.” 

In “That Day Is Done,” a morbid quasi-spiritual by
Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello, she is a dead woman
speaking from the grave as her grieving lover
“sprinkles flowers in the dirt.” The Beach Boys’ “God
Only Knows,” which Ms. West named on Wednesday evening
as her favorite love song, explores the anxious
psychology embodied in the words, “God only knows what
I’d be without you.” It isn’t all sweetness and light
and California sunshine. Her version of “Jambalaya”
carries the Hank Williams song back to its Creole

Best of all is her version of the Billie Holiday
standard “Miss Brown to You,” a number she infuses
with the same playful high spirits as the woman who
made it famous, while adding an extra fillip of
gleeful defiance.

Paula West performs through Nov. 10 at the Oak Room at
the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, Manhattan;
(212) 419-9331.


Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com

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