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Banu Gibson and Bucky Pizzarelli: Steppin’ Out

She’s the fiery redhead with the Maureen O’Hara vivacity. He’s the guitar virtuoso with the gentlemanly grace. Together they should make beautiful music. Trouble is, their respective musical strengths are, like spiced rum and single malt scotch, too distinctly dichotomous to blend satisfyingly. Gibson, whose sparkling robustness is reminiscent of the perennially underappreciated Pearl Bailey, is expert at infusing up-tempo trifles and saucy ditties with fitting exuberance. Here, she handles “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” and “This Year’s Kisses” with impressive agility and injects “A Woman’s Prerogative” and “Put the Blame on Mame” with precisely the right amount of playful sizzle.

Ballads, however, prove problematic. On such fragile gems as “Remember” and “September Song,” Gibson swaps introspection for barely subdued bounciness. The effect is unsettling, particularly on her oddly gleeful rendition of the achingly plaintive “There’s a Lull in My Life.”

Pizzarelli, meanwhile, remains the delicate yin to Gibson’s brazen yang. His superbly tempered accompaniment on the ballads serves only to further enhance her obstreperousness. Elsewhere, on the upbeat numbers, the subtle beauty of his easy authority is buried within boisterous arrangements that favor the piano, brass and bass.

On Steppin’ Out, both Gibson and Pizzarelli skillfully reinforce their already sterling reputations. Only once, though, reaching a harmonious middle ground with a bittersweet and soft “What’ll I Do?” do they do so simultaneously.

Originally Published