By R.M. Campbell
Michael Feinstein’s compact disc “The Sinatra Project” has around a few years and won plenty of fans, now including Seattle where Feinstein appeared Monday night at Benaroya Hall, courtesy of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Not many would take on Frank Sinatra: He is too famous, his musicality and timbre too individual and, need one say it again, too iconic.
Like most observers of the American popular song in the 20th century, Feinstein is a huge admirer of Sinatra for his musical breadth and influence of singers who lived during his lifetime and afterward. With typical diligence and respect for the artist, Feinstein took his time looking for an approach to Sinatra. The point was not to imitate the singer — who could do that? — but find a way “to reflect the Sinatra sensibility in romantic repertoire,” Feinstein said, and in some cases apply ”’what if’ scenario to some of the arrangements by interpreting them in conceptually different styles from his own rendition.”
I am not sure how many connoisseurs there are of this material to appreciate these differences, but one does not have to be a connoisseur to appreciate the vibrancy and individuality of what Feinstein has done.
To be sure, Sinatra was Sinatra — the kind of voice that is instantly recognizable. So too Feinstein. The latter may have a more beautiful voice, taken in the purist of terms, but each is equal in the way they bring multiple colors and dynamics to whatever they do. And how deeply they respect the text, and how hard they work to illuminate it. With each, one goes on a trip when they start a song that does not end until it finishes. Their diction is admirable, their interest in the American song profound. Each has an expressive flexibility that takes command of the material and makes it their own. This is musicality of the highest order. They are stylists, inventive and flexible, with a precise knowledge of what they can do.
The concert was not a replication of the disc. There was a lot of Cole Porter and George Gershwin. Less than a half-dozen songs are on the album, like “Begin the Beguine,” “Exactly Like You, “Fools Rush In” and “It’s All Right With Me.” Added to this wonderful mix were great tunes such as “Luck Be a Lady,” which opened the performance; “Brazil,” a lot of fun; “What Kind of Fool” — wonderfully poignant and theatrical; or “Just One of Those Things.” I can’t remember when I have heard a more telling “So in Love,” from Porter’s “Kiss Me Kate.”
The band was mostly from Seattle, except the pianist/conductor, guitarist, drummer and double bass. The reeds, primarily saxophones and trumpets and trombones were locaL. They were excellent, giving a gloss and precision and drama to everything they did. This is big band stuff in high style with gorgeous arrangements. It took a while to get the balance right — between band and Feinstein — but then they did and rest was smooth sailing. Feinstein often served as his own pianist. He is a gifted pianist who likes grand flourishes and modest accompaniment and never confused the two. His technique is fluent.
A full, enthusiastic house gave him a lot of rapture and was rewarded with a collage for an encore: “Night and Day,” “My Funny Valentine” and “New York.”