Intentionally or not, the opening track of Somewhere is a bit of misdirection. Sounding like a suave supper-club crooner, Peter Eldridge eases into Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Know Me” buoyed by pianist Kenny Werner’s pillowy string arrangement. Eldridge sounds resigned rather than devastated at his anonymity, and he doesn’t come close to prying the song away from Ray Charles. (Who could?) But rather than introducing an easy-listening program of standards, the tune is an anomaly on a ballad-centric project that brims with exceptional originals.
Eldridge and Werner co-wrote a single song, the sumptuous seasonal ode “Autumn in Three,” but one or the other is credited on just about every other piece. Eldridge wrote the words and music for the graceful, exacting portrait of a romance on the rocks, “Difficult,” a song in search of a Sondheim musical. Werner is solely responsible for the dreamy “Untitled Lament,” which also features his most elaborate arrangement. And what arrangements! Understated and blithely sophisticated, his string charts sound utterly integral to the music and expertly tailored to Eldridge’s pleasingly rounded baritone and his own scintillating piano work.
Werner’s career is studded with rewarding collaborations with singular vocalists, from Brazilian-born Claudia Villela and Joyce Moreno to Broadway star Betty Buckley and jazz vocalist Roseanna Vitro. Now add Eldridge to the list. The highlights are manifold, including the medley of the Sondheim/Bernstein title track with Johnny Mandel and Paul Francis Webster’s “A Time for Love.” Just about every player on the project is affiliated with Berklee, including cellist Eugene Friesen, who conducts the 20-piece string orchestra. Given Eldridge’s track record with New York Voices, his slim but highly regarded solo discography, and his widespread influence as an educator, it’s surprising he still seems to fly under the radar. The man doesn’t have a Wikipedia page. Maybe “You Don’t Know Me” is more personal than it first appears. If so, Somewhere serves as a striking (re)introduction.