Subtitled “Sinatra — From London to New York,” Birdland’s jazz tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes is a rather mixed bag, with styles ranging from polite cocktail jazz to cabaret vocalizing and what amounts to an archaic Vegas lounge act. Considering Frank Sinatra recorded more than a thousand songs in a career that spanned five decades, the musicians appear to have free reign over selections.
The tunes run from a spirited “All of Me” to the plaintive blessing of the Depression “Pennies From Heaven.” The latter was served up by vet octogenarian trombonist Eddie Bert, who was in the band when Sinatra sang at the Paramount Theater in the 1940s. Bert’s playing is fluently supple and crisply melodic, and he also brought a wistful reverence to “Mood Indigo,” surprisingly one of only four Ellington songs recorded by Sinatra.
Clearly the most satisfying solo turn found guitarist Howard Alden performing a Cole Porter medley from “High Society.” No matter that Sinatra introduced “You’re Sensational” and Bing Crosby crooned “I Love You, Samantha” in the 1956 tuner; Alden skillfully merged melodic content with some lovely and imaginative improvisational lines.
From Great Britain, Ray Gelato added assertive strength to “Lean Baby” with a lusty tenor sax solo. Tenorman Leo Green brought a gritty Sam Butera texture to “I Love Paris,” even taking a pause to tinkle high register piano a la Jerry Lee Lewis. Unfortunately, Green clowns it up a great deal, strolls among the patrons and encourages hand clapping, and his playing is given to showy honks and groans.
In the vocal department, Betsyann Faiella rendered a half-dozen Sinatra stepping stones from “How Little We Know” — accented by a subtle statement from Alden — and “I’m Confessin'” to “No One Ever Tells You.” The lady’s phrasing is none too interesting or inventively fanciful, despite a warm and cushy sound. Faiella also makes the only commentary on the crooner’s legacy, but it is tastelessly dotted with the infamous 1938 police mug shot and a totally unnecessary reference to slapping his wives around. The concert would be best left unscripted.