Early on in Dianne Fraser’s set celebrating the release of her debut album You and I: The Words and Music of Leslie Bricusse, the singer offered a whimsical anecdote about trying to tell her dentist about the recording while in his chair, all novocaine’d up. She mentioned the legendary two-time Oscar winning film and stage composer by name, and he asked, “Who’s she?” Then she mimicked herself, mouth still anesthetized, singing “What Kind of Fool Am I?”, to which the dentist replied, “Didn’t Sammy Davis, Jr. write that?”
Besides her lifelong love of Bricusse’s many era defining songs that made him one of the most prolific theatre and film musical composers of the 60’s, 70’s and early 80s, that typical response was one of the great driving forces behind the album. Because, as Fraser explained to her enthusiastic crowd at Catalina Jazz Club, while everyone of a certain age is familiar with many his most enduring songs – “Pure Imagination,” “If I Ruled the World,” “Feeling Good,” “This is The Moment,” “Two For the Road”– more often than not, they don’t know his name. In another of her charming anecdotes, the singer told the back story of how as a little girl growing up in North Hollywood, she idolized Petula Clark – and she discovered Bricusse via Clark’s song “You and I” from the film Goodbye Mr. Chips. You and I naturally became the perfect name for the project dedicated in his honor. She slipped in an all too brief Petula medley as well.
If anyone in the audience happened to come in not knowing Bricusse’s name, she made sure they heard it quite often throughout her hour-plus set, which included moments of exquisite intimacy, grand showmanship reflecting Dianne’s lengthy regional musical theatre resume and towering emotional expressions – all backed impeccably by her trio featuring pianist/musical director Todd Schroeder, bassist Adam Cohen and drummer Denise Fraser (Dianne’s sister).
Earlier in the day, I began to fall in love with her voice, her phrasing, those arrangements and the album as I listened to write a review, hearing songs I already loved rendered so beautifully and powerfully, and many songs I didn’t so cleverly mashed up in unique medleys. It was wonderful to complement that experience with the opportunity to hear her bring these tunes alive on stage, infusing so much of her personality and natural charisma into the presentation. The purity of her vocals allowed every lyric to pour forth and linger in the heart as all great poetry does.
Following a rousing overture by her trio, Dianne invited everyone to experience life “At the Crossroads,” a gentle ballad which she segued into the playfully swinging “After Today.” After a mystical stroll through “Pure Imagination” and the Petula story, she said, “That’s right, he (Bricusse) was NOT a lady!” and eased into a sensual, dreamy spin on one of his best-known pieces, “Feeling Good” (popularized by everyone from Nina Simone to Michael Buble). The centerpiece of the set was he pairing of the lesser known, soft spoken “Crazy World” with the triumphantly optimistic “If I Ruled The World.” Her transition was so seamless it was almost hard to tell she had begun a completely different song.
Dianne put every ounce of her deeper theatricality on display donning a top hat and sharing her French language skills on the old timey romp “Le Jazz Hot” from Victor/Victoria. Another delightful highlight was the uber romantic medley of “Look at That Face/Something In Your Smile” performed as a sly, soulful duet with guest baritone Damon Kirsche (who also sings it with her on the album). Her tear for perfect pairings continued with the empowering, wonder and seize the day filled medley of “This is the Moment/Once in a Lifetime.”
She closed with two of the most inviting pieces from the album, the hopeful, lovelorn title track and the reflective “Two for the Road,” whose Bricusse-penned lyrics speak of “collecting precious memories.” This was a night of many thanks to Dianne’s heartfelt and enthusiastic performances of these timeless songs. Even at an hour plus, it seemed too short a time to spend with her on that road.