13 October 2023
Album release and big band concert on November 11, featuring Cole Porter's greatest hits and six original songs.
When we talk about American music as our country’s gift to the rest of the world, we’re generally referring to two closely related forms, jazz and the Great American Songbook. But in listening to this exciting new album from the excellent European singer Frederik Steenbrink, I’m struck by how these two bodies of music jointly transcend the generations as well as the continents.
In the hands of the Dutch-born, Paris-based singer, writer, composer and entertainer Frederik Steenbrink, the two forms are not only thriving, but continue to work together, each complementing and supporting the other. As rendered by Mr. Steenbrink and orchestrated by the talented arranger and drummer Philippe Maniez – and played by an ace big band featuring many of the best jazz players in Paris – these well-known songs of the ‘30s and ‘40s sound both classic and contemporary.
The format here reminds me of a classic album by the late Mel Tormé titled My Kind of Music. This 1961 release consisted of half classic songs by the great Broadway tunesmiths Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, while the other half was original songs by Mel himself. Frederik employs a variation on that idea here: half of the songs are by one of the great icons of popular songwriting, the legendary Cole Porter, which alternate with worthwhile originals by Frederik and Phil.
Of the Porter songs, Frederik and the band do a particularly outstanding job with “Love for Sale”; it’s the rare male singer who delivers that once-controversial song exactly as written. “You’re the Top” is a welcome duet with Frederik’s longtime singing partner, the formidable Isabelle Georges. I’m also particularly taken with “Anything Goes”, which features an impressive baritone saxophone solo by Balthazar Naturel.
The original numbers are also noteworthy; “Stains of Love” is a highly original list song set in a lilting yet swinging pattern, “Sunday in New York” is something very interesting indeed; it’s an upbeat, hard-swinging number, yet the lyrics and the story they tell is precisely the opposite of what you’d expect – In direct contrast to the melody, it’s a surprisingly melancholy and downbeat tale of two lovers, not meeting, but rather breaking up. This album proves that great American music is alive and well, all over the world.
WILL FRIEDWALD writes about music and popular culture for The Wall Street Journal, Vanity Fair, The New York Times, The New York Stage Review and other publications. He is the author of ten books, including the award-winning A Biographical Guide To The Great Jazz And Pop Singers, Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer’s Art, Tony Bennett: The Good Life, and Straighten Up and Fly Right: The Life and Music of Nat King Cole. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received eleven Grammy nominations and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also consultant and curator for Apple Music.