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New album from Cheryl Bentyne

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    Posted: 03 Nov 2017 at 2:41pm


On reARRANGEMENTS OF SHADOWS, veteran vocalist CHERYL BENTYNE re-imagines songs by the iconic Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim.  Widely known for her 38 years as part of the renowned vocal group The Manhattan Transfer, Bentyne is also a solo performer with over a dozen CDs under her own name as well as several collaborative projects with other singers and instrumentalists.
Music from Broadway shows has been a staple of the jazz repertoire since the 1920s. Even as jazz has evolved over the years, harmonically rich and lyrically sophisticated show tunes have provided an abundant supply of material for jazz singers of all stripes. Although Sondheim is generally considered the greatest contemporary Broadway composer, his songs are mostly written as plot points within the context of a show. That makes them very difficult to sing in other settings, and consequently, many jazz singers have not embraced a large part of his oeuvre. It takes an artist of Bentyne's stature to create her own fully realized, personal context from Sondheim's often difficult lyrics. According to Bentyne, "Sondheim doesn't just write song lyrics. He writes monologues. He writes how people really speak, and I wanted my renditions to sound as natural as Sondheim meant them to be. If you overwork a song, every note starts sounding predictable, and you wind up with a pop album. Spontaneity was an important part of the recording process."
The ten tunes that comprise reARRANGEMENTS OF SHADOWS are mostly well-known to theater aficionados. To create a fresh, new take for each song and an exciting, unpredictable dynamic for the entire project, she enlisted the help of several of the most innovative jazz arrangers around today, including Grammy-nominated JOHN BEASLEY; ELI BRUEGGEMANN, the current musical director for Saturday Night Live; JAMIESON TROTTER, the busy  pianist who's become one of the top accompanists for L.A. singers; the versatile BEVAN MANSON, who's not only a studio musician but who also writes and arranges for string quartets; bass player KEVIN AXT, a mainstay of the Tierney Sutton band; and MARK KIBBLE, a founding member of the multiple Grammy-winning, vocal a cappella group Take 6. The diverse approaches of each arranger all coalesce into a unified soundscape by Bentyne's mellifluous vocal quality and incandescent emotional honesty.
Take the opening tune, "I Remember," from the television production of "Evening Primrose." The song was sung by a very young woman who hadn't seen the outside world for many years. A sweet song about her memories of the changing seasons, Beasley's arrangement gives the song an emotional edge, while Bentyne imbues the lyrics with an almost existential sadness that emanates from the soul of a mature, worldly woman.

"Sand" is the only obscure tune on the CD, because it was written for an unproduced musical film. Brueggemann's modernistic arrangement sets the stage for Bentyne's biting interpretation of the acerbic lyrics.
"The Ladies Who Lunch," from "Company," is a rollicking number arranged by Trotter.  Written for Elaine Stritch as a showstopper, Bentyne thought it would be fun to do a completely different version of it, so she invited Janis Siegel and Tierney Sutton to join her. Together, the three master vocalists transform the number from a bitter social commentary into a smoky, sexy party that sounds like it's well on its way after the second martini. Trotter also contributed an arrangement for "Not a Day Goes By" from "Merrily We Roll Along." Bentyne sings the tune with great pathos and subtlety, and re-ordered the lyrics a bit to make the song work outside of its associated plot.
Axt's arrangement of "Everybody Says Don't," from "Anyone Can Whistle," revamps the popular show tune as a jazz number by using only bass and drums accompaniment. 
Bentyne says that Manson's string arrangement for "Comedy Tonight," from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," sounds like "Sondheim meets Stravinsky meets Frank Zappa ... and maybe a little Cirque du Soleil thrown in."
Bentyne says that she thinks of "Move On," from "Sunday in the Park with George," as somewhat autobiographical for her. She had a bout with cancer several years ago and was forced into a period of inactivity while she was recovering. With lyrics like, "Stop worrying where you're going / Move on / If you can know where you're going / You've gone / Just keep moving on," Bentyne relates to the song as an inner-monologue with each phrase a thought bubble that she turns over in her mind. Manson provided the arrangement for this tune, as well.
"I Wish I Could Forget You," from "Passion," is a poignant song originally sung by a dying woman that features Bentyne's tender, sad vocals accompanied only by Tom Zink on piano.
"Send in the Clowns" is probably the best known of Sondheim's songs. Arranged by Kibble, with background harmonies by Kibble and Armand Hutton, as well as a percussive groove laid down by Tom McCauley, who co-produced this CD, Bentyne and company thoroughly transform this chestnut into a contemporary vocal jazz number.
Bentyne is also joined on reARRANGEMENTS OF SHADOWS by DAVE TULL on drums, BRAD DUTZ on percussion, JOHN ARRUCCI on marimba, RAFI RISHIK on violin, IRINA VOLOSHINA on violin, JENNIE HANSEN on viola, and ARMEN KSAJIKIAN on cello.
Bentyne studied acting and performed in plays when she was in school, which is why she is so attracted to Sondheim's music. The conversational nature of his songs comes naturally to her, while being a superb, intuitive musician enables her to transform whatever she sings into a personal statement of great emotional depth.
reARRANGEMENTS OF SHADOWS will be available in stores and online everywhere.  Listen on Soundcloud to "Send in the Clowns," http://bit.ly/2f9HCD0.


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