Just because one can record a CD doesn’t mean that one should.
Janis Siegel’s Sketches of Broadway
is, to put it mildly, a smug and self-indulgent exercise littered with bizarre arrangements of poorly chosen songs. The performances themselves are solid. Siegel is a quality vocalist, if a less-than-stellar improviser, and her band is excellent. In particular, bassist and drummer John Patitucci and Antonio Sanchez respectively hold up a solid foundation. Guitarist Romero Lubambo plays in an understated fashion, providing a welcome counterpoint to Siegel’s overblown showiness. Stefon Harris’s vibes add vivid coloration that works well against Lubambo’s guitar.
Gil Goldstein, producer, arranger and keyboardist on the disc, makes some strange choices, particularly with respect to his arrangement of "It’s a Woman’s Prerogative" which could have come from the score of a 1970’s police drama. The band itself, particularly Harris and Lubambo sound as if they have no idea what to do with the arrangement. Their playing is tentative, as they follow Siegel without sight of where she’s headed. There doesn’t really seem to be a quality exchange between singer and band on this tune. Instead, true to the title, Siegel exercises her prerogative and leaves the band and listener puzzled.
A medley of tunes from Oklahoma
and The King and I
, "Out of My Dreams/I Have Dreamed" respectively, highlights the disc. Siegel is as sensitive to her musicians on this track as she gets throughout the entire disc. In particular, she and Lubambo work well together. Again, the subtle acoustic guitar counters Siegel’s emotive over-the-top delivery which works well here.
Siegel is sure of herself, as any established singer should be, but this confidence translates into bad choices. "Sun in the Morning" is a track that makes no sense whatsoever, with its overdriven lead guitar that sounds woefully out of place. Her excruciatingly methodical delivery of "Surrey with a Fringe on Top" is so intentionally behind the beat that it ceases to swing and instead becomes painful to listen to. Her scatted break is laughable, as this track embodies everything that jazz singing can be at its worst - incredibly indulgent and blissfully ignorant of the band.
She rebounds nicely on "It Never Was You," the following track, singing purely to a spare accompaniment of guitar and piano. When Siegel is not attempting self-consciously to be hip, her voice is beautiful and her phrasing incredibly pleasant. It’s almost as if she forgets the facade she puts on. It’s a pity that the facade is present for most of this disc.