There are two elements of Ben Cassara’s back story that clue us in on the effortless cool and expansive swinging, storytelling artistry the veteran NYC and New Jersey based vocalist (and curator of a long running jazz series at the East Village cabaret club Pangea) brings to a second album so fun, romantic, diverse and exciting that its title needs an exclamation point – What a Way to Go!
Cassara’s onetime vocal teacher, the late Manhattan jazz singer Carol Fredette, once told him: “Don’t think of how you would sing it. How would you say it?” The other important element is that in 2014, Cassara debuted his Bobby Troup Project at Jazz Kitano and has since performed it in New York and around the tri-state area. These dual influential aesthetics lcirnd authenticity and straightforward soulfulness to the artistic vision of a voice George Harris of Jazz Weekly said gave “hints of Barry Manilow and Bob Dorough – a mid-toned tenor that sounds comfortable in his skin.”
Whether he’s sharing his jaunty sense of swing or gentle more intimate grace on not often covered Great American Songbook gems like “I Just Found Out About Love” and “Secret Love,” Cassara always makes us feel like we’re engaged in a thoughtful conversation about life and love. Though he’s more a brilliant interpreter than a songwriter himself, his passion for Troup-esque wittiness and clever wordplay comes across in the four crafty and poetic Dorough tunes he re-imagines – from the tropical twist on “Zanzibar” to the brisk and whimsical “Let’s Eat Home.”
Besides his casual and emotionally compelling vocal charm and the stellar arrangements by pianist and the collection’s producer Ronny Whyte, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of What a Way To Go! is Cassara’s song selection, complementing the aforementioned choices with two uber-romantic Jobim songs (“Living on Dreams (Vivo Sonhando),” “Fotografia”) and four colorful and stylistically varied originals penned by Whyte – most notably the bluesy, smoky “The Party Upstairs” and the hip, playfully strutting “Throw Me A Word,” both featuring the smoky sax of Harry Allen.