Levy & Ogawa Do Cole Porter

4 - Ogawa, Levy

PORTER: I Get a Kick Out of You. My Heart Belongs to Daddy. Just One of Those Things. What is This Thing Called Love? It’s Alright With Me. So in Love. Too Darn Hot. Anything Goes. Love for Sale. In the Still of the Night / Shimpei Ogawa, bs; Noe Levy, voc / Belle Records BEL-002

Jazz singer Noe Levy, who studied at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley, here takes a page from the Sheila Jordan Handbook in singing only with a bassist, Japanese-born Shimpei Ogawa. A blurb about Levy online says that she also likes to sing pop and rock. I’m grateful that she doesn’t include any of that here.

Cole Porter was certainly a good choice. He was one of those rare songwriters of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s who penned the lyrics to his own tunes, as did Irving Berlin, but although both of them became favorites of jazz musicians and singers, Berlin hated jazz renditions of his songs. He thought that jazz musicians ruined them. Porter had hipper blood in his veins and enjoyed the variations he heard on his songs.

Levy sings out more than Jordan did and puts her emphasis on altering the beat, sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly, and swinging pretty hard. On the other hand, Jordan’s extreme subtlety in stretching and condensing the beat was a world unto itself; no one has come close to her since. At the same time, Ogawa is a much more extroverted bassist than Jordan’s favorite partner, Harvie Swartz (nowadays simply known as Harvie S), so as a duo they match each other perfectly in style. Given the myopic long-range view of many millennials, however, I wondered at the inclusion of My Heart Belongs to Daddy. Young listeners are sure to think that this is an incestuous song, whereas “daddy” was slang back in the 1930s for a “sugar daddy,” a rich guy who “kept” a woman by buying her expensive clothes and accessories, “useful things like bonds and stocks and Paris rocks.” Just saying.

Ogawa gets his first extended solo on Just One of Those Things, and it’s a very rich, swinging solo, too, though he stays within harmonic bounds fairly tightly. Not so Levy, who flies high above him with some very neat little variants, a few of which use extended chord positions. The duo surprised me by including the rarely-heard verse to What is This Thing Called Love? In fact, even I had never heard it before!

It would be nice to say that this is a laid-back summertime listening album, but happily, it’s better than that. Levy’s flexible voice, excellent scatting and harmonic daring make it much more. In the middle of What is This Thing, for instance, Ogawa gets hold of a Charles Mingus lick and rides it under Levy’s scatting. I was also delighted to see that Levy included such hip Porter songs as It’s Alright With Me and Too Darn Hot, the latter my favorite song from the Porter musical Kiss Me, Kate, yet one that jazz musicians seldom if ever play. “According to the Kinsey Report, every average man you know / Prefers to play his favorite sport when the temperature is low / But when the thermometer goes way up, and the weather is sizzling hot / Mr. Adam, for his Madam, is not!”  They also turn So in Love into a mini-masterpiece, with Ogawa playing the jazz equivalent of a ground bass while Levy limns the melody beautifully.

Those readers old enough to remember the folk-pop group Harpers Bizarre may remember their hit recording of Anything Goes, which I really liked. Ogawa and Levy turn the music on its head, breaking up and redistributing the original rhythm into something much more complex (with an extra beat or two thrown into a few bars). As in Too Darn Hot, Levy updates the lyrics somewhat. I didn’t feel that was really necessary, but just the thought of Cary Grant “turning into Kevin Spacey” was funny enough in its own way.

My sole complaint about this album is that, at roughly 37 minutes, it was too darn short. A couple of more tunes would have been just about right, but every track on this disc is a jewel. As Levy sings in Love for Sale, their approach to the music here is “fresh and unspoiled.”

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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Read my book, From Baroque to Bop and Beyond: An extended and detailed guide to the intersection of classical music and jazz


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