Jazz Review: Deborah Shulman and Larry Zalkind - Lost in the Stars: The Music of Bernstein, Weill & Sondheim

An enjoyable and imaginative retelling of musical theatre standards.
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lost in the starsThe worlds of musical theatre and jazz music collide often, with the former providing plenty of room for exaggerated exploration and the latter setting the scene for improvisation and some compositional guidelines. Those worlds collide yet again with the release of Lost in the Stars: The Music of Bernstein, Weill & Sondheim, the latest release from vocalist Deborah Shulman and trombonist Larry Zalkind.

The record is somewhat of a family affair, featuring Zalkind’s wife (and Shulman’s sister) Roberta (viola) and son Matthew (cello). Jeff Colella (piano), Terry Trotter (piano), Joe LaBarbera (drums), Larry Koonse (guitar), and Chris Colangelo (bass) are also part of the unit, with Frank Marocco (accordion) making his presence felt and Ted Howe producing and arranging some of the pieces.

The material is sophisticated and Shulman and Co. take some interesting directions, making use of the singer’s theatrical experience and her classical foundations to curve some tunes into nearly unrecognizable shapes. The group is nowhere near ashamed at careening headlong into some more demonstrative pathways, either.

Opening with a lively bass-line and LaBarbera’s measure, “Something’s Coming” is a good indication as to the fun to come. Shulman sings the Leonard Bernstein piece with reckless abandon, shifting tones and swerving through its loquacious lyrics. Zalkind’s trombone proves the ideal complement, spawning the other half of the tête-à-tête.

The famed Kurt Weill tune “Mack the Knife,” which first appeared in The Threepenny Opera in 1928, takes on new life here with a haunting rendering that shuns the poorly-read buoyant version popularized over the years. The astute choice, loaded with lovely strings and fine trombone accents, carries more of the shadowy Mackie Messer saga to bear.

Another Weill number, “September Song,” is delivered with class. The song, covered by a range of artists from Bryan Ferry to Elaine Page, is played well with plenty of open spaces and watchful trombone.

Stephen Sondheim’s “The Ladies Who Lunch,” originally found in Company, is carried derisively and finds its “drink” spiked by Koonse’s terse guitar. And “Ain’t Got No Tears Left,” a Leonard Bernstein song cut from On the Town, proves that this outfit can handle torchlight swagger.

Lost in the Stars is an album of finely-tuned music presented with flair by musicians of the highest order. Shulman’s tones are elegant but sometimes cutting, a perfect match for Zalkind’s straight-shooting trombone and the rest of the outfit’s poise.