The past year has been transformational for Chicago singer Paul Marinaro, who – after a long period of struggle – suddenly found himself playing the city's best jazz rooms.
What happened? In essence, he shifted from relative obscurity to national notice on the strength of his distinctive debut album, "Without a Song." Here at last was a document that captured not only the luster of Marinaro's instrument but the savvy of his interpretations.
For all the allure of that release, however, it represented just a gateway to the pleasures of hearing and seeing Marinaro in concert. His return to the Jazz Showcase, where he launched "Without a Song" in June of 2013, on Thursday night reaffirmed an earlier conclusion: Marinaro stands as an important addition to the small roster of worthy male jazz singers age 40 and under.
Drawing a surprisingly large crowd for the night before Independence Day, Marinaro came out swinging in "Devil May Care," one of the most appealing tracks from "Without a Song." But the singer quickly established that this was no retread of a familiar rendition. Instead, Marinaro reworked phrasings, altered rhythms, played with pitch and otherwise cleverly recast the tune.
So too in "I've Got the World on a String," Marinaro veering away from not only Frank Sinatra's indelible version but from his own, as well. The exultant, euphoric climax sounded larger than life, Marinaro's baritone immense in size but not shrill or overbearing.
Yet it was in passages such as this that the only real flaw in the evening emerged. For when Marinaro was upping the decibels, the ace band accompanying him did not always give him enough sonic support. The man simply needs more instrumental sound when he's approaching fortissimo levels, if only because his voice is so huge. The same issue emerged in "When the Sun Comes Out," a classic, steeped-in-blue Harold Arlen anthem in which Marinaro's voice sounded more than a bit exposed in full-throttle passages.
Or maybe a male voice of this size and stature simply needs a larger ensemble to do it justice in some material. Imagine how Marinaro would have sounded with a roaring big band behind him – like the kind that backed Sinatra and Tony Bennett in concert and in the recording studio.
In less dramatic material, however, Marinaro surely benefited from the ultra-elegant pianism of Jeremy Kahn, the nimble rhythmic articulation of drummer Jon Deitemyer, the sonorous lines of bassist John Sutton and the oft-ferocious alto saxophone and clarinet playing of Eric Schneider.
Some of the evening's best work, however, unfolded on an intimate scale, nowhere more effectively than in a duet between Marinaro and Kahn in the ballad "While My Lady Sleeps." Crooner Nelson Eddy made the tune famous long ago, and jazz artists such as Chet Baker and John Coltrane revived it, but Marinaro and Kahn reconceived the piece entirely on their own terms. To hear Marinaro's long, silken lines cast against Kahn's glistening pianism was to understand anew what profound song interpretation is all about. Marinaro offered intensely emotional singing here without indulging in excess vibrato, self-dramatizing physical gestures or other devices used by lesser singers. Instead, this was a lean, modern reading that cut to the essence of the song's meaning.
Exactly what Marinaro does best.
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court