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Julia Hulsmann Quartet with Theo Bleckmann: A Clear Midnight: Kurt Weill and America

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Whether Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald or Louis Armstrong, one of those names leaps immediately to mind at the mention of “Mack the Knife.” All of their versions are distinctly great, yet none is even remotely sinister, which is odd for a song about a remorseless thief and murderer. But Theo Bleckmann gets “Mack” just right, delivering a creeping back-alley reading that’s downright chilling. Indeed, Bleckmann, so equally skilled at playing angel or rapscallion, is an ideal interpreter of the Kurt Weill songbook-for Weill, too, was a master of both shadows and light.

But don’t mistake A Clear Midnight for any sort of Weill greatest-hits package. Instead, Bleckmann conspires with pianist Julia Hülsmann to serve up a potent stew that, blending the oft-covered (“September Song,” “Speak Low”) with the arcane (“Little Tin God,” “Great Big Sky”), focuses on the breadth and majesty of Weill’s lyricists, spanning Bertolt Brecht, Maxwell Anderson, Ira Gershwin, Ogden Nash and Langston Hughes. Nor, in fact, is the entire program Weill’s. At the album’s midpoint, Hülsmann offers three compositions inspired by the poetry of Walt Whitman: the skulking “A Noiseless Patient Spider,” Bleckmann’s choirboy rendering of the title track and his rousing “Beat! Beat! Drums!”

While Hülsmann’s name trumps his on the album cover, and two of the project’s dozen tracks are instrumentals, Bleckmann is both ringmaster and show pony. Largely propelled by Tom Arthurs on trumpet and flugelhorn, the quartet provides eider beds for his often-wraithlike, invariably intoxicating voice.

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