Eric Comstock & Randy Napoleon: bitter/sweet

His career now spans two decades, but it is only in the last few years that the depth and breadth of Eric Comstock’s vocal acuity has been fully realized. Where once, on projects like 1997’s Young Man of Manhattan and his subsequent salute to the lyrics of Larry Hart, Comstock seemed overeager to please, he has since settled into a mellower groove, suggesting both aesthetic ease and sage ripeness. It elevates him to the plateau of Fred Astaire and Chet Baker, fellow slight-voiced masters of transcendent expression. Comstock’s maturation was largely evident throughout his previous album, 2005’s No One Knows. Here, supported solely by guitarist Randy Napoleon, his vocal blossoming is complete.

Napoleon’s subtle elegance provides an ideal cushion for Comstock’s genteel balladeering. Rarely does either rise above a whisper, expertly maintaining a less-is-more ambience. Typical of Comstock, the playlist is astutely diverse, extending from the tender yearning of “I Have Dreamed” and “Too Late Now” to the less-familiar ache of Paul Weston and Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s “Goodbye Is a Lonesome Sound” and the Billy Strayhorn/Roger Schore title tune. Only once does the session extend beyond Comstock and Napoleon, with vocalist Barbara Fasano added to “Two for the Road.” Though Fasano’s contribution is undeniably beautiful, it seems extraneously disruptive of Comstock and Napoleon’s refined sublimity.