Janis Siegel, one quarter of the vocal group Manhattan Transfer and a soloist with a new album, “Friday Night Special,” on Telarc, offered a keen kicky turn marked by cool assurance, vocal clarity and a breezy, pitch-perfect sound.
Few singers go out on a limb to sing against the slow burn of the likes of a Hammond B3 as Siegel does on her disc and as she did at this JVC Jazz Festival gig. The combination turned out to be a real groove and a highly fueled opener. George Colligan added the grits and gravy organ accompaniment for Siegel, who kicked off her set with Bill Withers’ “The Same Love That Made Me Laugh” and a blues romp with Billy Myles’ “My Love Is” in tandem with Willie Dixon’s “My Babe.”
Siegel also searches the archives, coming up with a rare look at the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill tune “Cornet Man,” from “Funny Girl,” (she offered a fanciful, brassy attack) and — talk about digging into Broadway’s glorious past — rediscovering a song written by Vernon Duke and Ogden Nash from “The Littlest Revue.” It’s called “Born Too Late” and was excluded from the original 1956 cast album only to be rescued decades later by historian Ben Bagley. Siegel’s haunting take on the tune revealed her commitment to the art of telling a story and reaching the depths of one’s heart.
Siegel sampled tunes from “Friday Night Special,” including a rather unlikely racing take on “Misty” and “I Just Dropped in to Say Hello.” Reminding her audience that the latter was associated with the late balladeer Johnny Hartman, Siegel quipped, “Why should the baritones have all the fun?” The singer forged her tightest bond with the audience when singing Johnny Mercer’s ode to a pastoral green valley, “Skylark.”
The Fred Hersch trio replaced an originally scheduled Steve Tyrell, who withdrew due to family illness. Composer-pianist Hersch is a richly imaginative musician who plays with considerable clarity, marked by clean and bold linear variations.
His varied set included “Bemsha Swing” by Thelonious Monk; his own serene composition, “Endless Stars,” inspired by a summery New Hampshire night; and a boppish tribute to Joe Henderson, “Phantom of the Bopera.”
Taking a cue from the concert theme, “Beautiful Songs — Then and Now,” Hersch was at his most poetic with “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and a stunning turn with “Some Other Time.” The Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn tune was crooned by Sinatra to a pert Gloria DeHaven in his second major film appearance, “Step Lively.” Hersch layered the ballad with a rich, lustrous approach.