Broadway and Hollywood have contributed a slew of songs that seem tailor-made for cabaret performers. The melodies are hummable and the lyrics are catchy enough to hang around in the memory.
Coincidentally, jazz musicians have had a role in transforming some of those songs with arrangements and improvisations that, in the right hands, enhanced the cabaret experience by giving it an edge – albeit one with comfortably rounded curves.
Trombonist Phil Sims’ latest project, the Cabaret Big Band, is a collection of talented jazz musicians fronted by the wonderful vocalist Katy Miner, whose singing is as in the pocket as one could hope for. The charts crafted by Sims allow the players enough solo space to demonstrate their skills while engaging the listeners with tunes whose dressing never veers far from the basic melody lines. Miner’s manner and stage presence work well with this particular lineup, although a small group setting might show her talents even better.
As it was, Saturday afternoon’s show at Daemen College was a great display case for the band.
The set lists, a collaborative effort between Sims and Miner, veered from the 1920s through the 1970s, dipping into a repertoire laden with show tune classics by George Gershwin (“I Got Rhythm,” “I Loves You Porgy,” and “Lady Be Good”), Cole Porter (“Too Darn Hot” and “It’s All Right With Me”) and Jule Styne (“People” and “Never Never Land”).
While those songs came from shows like “Porgy and Bess,” “Funny Girl” and “Can-Can,” there were plenty of familiar works from otherwise forgettable revues and musicals included in the program.
These were standout tunes like “Crazy Rhythm,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” that entered the Broadway canon.
In keeping with the venue and the material, the musicians limited their improvisatory excursions to short bursts. The saxophonists Russ D’Alba, Ken Kuriscak and Harry Fackelman got their shots in individual tunes but got a better shot at showcasing their abilities in the only instrumental on the program, “I Got Rhythm.”
Bassist Paul Zapalowski, drummer Tom Kasperek and pianist Tom Paladino were a solid rhythm section, providing the pulse for the band and taking short flights during their solo spots. Tim Clarke worked well with Sims in the compact brass section, balancing the leader’s trombone with forceful trumpet playing and surprisingly delicate flugelhorn riffs.
The group will reassemble on Oct. 24 for another cabaret session, this time dedicated to material associated with Judy Garland.
It should be another interesting excursion into well-constructed nostalgia.