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Harry Bacharach: Velvet Tango

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According to an article in Cleveland Scene, Harry Bacharach has a secure day gig at On The Rise Bakery where many local jazz cats and members of the Cleveland Orchestra like to hang out. So what’s a nice, Jewish singer/pianist doing in the Velvet Tango Room two nights a week? If you’re curious, you can hear the sounds he coaxes from his indeterminate combo. (From the looseness of the “arrangements,” I assume much sitting-in takes place.) If you don’t have the inclination, here’s what you’ll be missing. Bacharach’s voice is an amalgam of Mose Allison, Hoagy Carmichael and Randy Newman, with twice as many bent tones and half as much clarity of lyrics. He wrote all ten songs on the CD and you have to admire his consistency: they sound pretty much alike; same goes for his accompaniments.

Sound quality leaves much to be desired. Curiously, Bacharach was co-engineer on the date. Soloists appear to have been recorded in a galaxy far, far away. That’s unfortunate since the only highlights are the solo efforts of saxophonist Jim Cirillo, who doubles on soprano and tenor; trumpeter Josh Rzepka, who doubles on flugelhorn, both of whom brighten up “The Slide;” and the distinguished assistant concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra, Lev Polyakin, who is equally at home in jazz and legit milieux. Despite his impressive credentials, violinist Polyakin is used but once: weaving an obligato on “Petal Point.” (That is the correct spelling of petal; the lyrics concern a garden.)

Little wonder Bacharach, who is a grand nephew of Burt, calls his label Hard Poor Corn. The whole affair sounds like a 3am frat house party, which may explain why certain singers remain unidentified. Oh well, Harry still has his sense of humor. He told a writer that a few years ago he jettisoned his real name, Ari Friedman, because “I didn’t think it was Jewish enough.” Ari/Harry, don’t give up the bakery gig. It’s the only way to guarantee making decent bread.

Originally Published