Blue Mountains Theatre, August 3
At his best Gregg Arthur is to jazz singing what a luxury resort is to a bedsit. Everything just happens rather than having to be wrangled into existence, with his voice sounding as if the component parts have been oiled. Conveying effortlessness is a strong suit to have, when so many jazz singers who mangle vowels and make terrifying leaps between melodic intervals end up seeming mannered rather than creative.
The “Quartet Quartet” moniker refers to being backed by both jazz quartet and string quartet, allowing Arthur to revisit arrangements the late Tommy Tycho wrote for him in the 1990s, with the strings’ exotic dimension letting him swim in the standard repertoire’s mainstream, and still cast fresh light upon the songs. Then again, he’s good enough to do that by himself, and recurrent violin intonation problems took the shine off several string arrangements, anyway.
The lyric of Where do I Begin?, which, if not quite purple, is certainly mauve, worked because Arthur wrapped his sonorous voice around it and simply let it unfold unadorned. Similarly he, tenor saxophonist Michael Avgenicos, pianist Andrew Scott, bassist Craig Scott and drummer Tim Geldens collectively shrank The Look of Love, so it bore little resemblance to Dusty Springfield’s over-produced hit, instead having its underlying craft highlighted.
Some choices didn’t work so well. The English version of Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas was too restrained; it needed to bleed a little more. La Vie en Rose and I Can’t Stop Loving You sounded like we had stumbled into club-land, despite the latter being based on a Basie Band arrangement, and Avgenicos blowing some bluesy grit into its eye. Others worked sensationally: Nature Boy (artlessly sung against Scott’s sinuous bass), My Funny Valentine (the words exquisitely weighted over an Andrew Scott arrangement), The Windmills of Your Mind (with storming tenor) and a thrilling duet with Geldens on It Don’t Mean a Thing. On top of all this, most contemporary jazz singers would kill to pen songs of the quality Arthur’s originals.
Gregg Arthur with John Morrison Big Band: Camelot, August 25.