In a scattered homage to a loosely defined idea in the latest installment of the Jazz Roots program, three world-class artists backed by UNLV’s jazz ensemble performed a selection from the generally agreed-upon canon of jazz-heavy popular music that defined the mid-20th century. Some novelty pieces, only tangentially connected to that theme, were also performed.
Tony DeSare’s voice nailed the smart and smoky mood in songs including “They Can’t Take that Away From Me” and “Night and Day.” But while his arrangement of Prince’s “Kiss” was well executed, it wasn’t clear if he was going for a lounge hook or making a statement about musical lineage. Then he inexplicably caricatured Elton John in a truncated “Bennie and the Jets.” Landau Eugene Murphy eased onstage and carried his half of a duet with DeSare in “That’s Life” and made good work of “My Way.”
Ann Hampton Callaway’s vocal range and emotive power on pieces from “In A Sentimental Mood” to “How High the Moon” and breathtaking arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” made her performance the night’s standout. However, her improv, audience-participation-songwriting routine produced an admittedly funny, but wildly incongruous piece that had Celine Dion murdering a one-night stand. It must have been a relief to purists when the night closed with LaSare, Murphy and Callaway belting out “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” ★★★★☆