It is becoming sadly rare when provocative music and quality entertainment values share the same stage. Such a rarity was exhibited Friday night, however, when pianist Clare Fischer brought his Latin-Jazz band into Le Cafe in Sherman Oaks.
Fischer, who leads an instrumental quintet and vocal foursome called 2+2 on his Latin outings, offered plenty of musical challenge during his 90-minute opening set. At the same time, without resorting to gimmickry or comedic shtick, he managed to be fabulously entertaining with his quaint stories and quick wit.
But the music comes first, and Fischer takes care of business in a most admirable way.
Minus vocalists, Fischer opened with a pair of sprightly rhythmic tunes before settling into a gentle rendition of Andy Russell's seldom-heard "Lost Without You." The tune showcased Terry Harrington's handsome flute work as Fischer's electric piano voicings ebbed and flowed under the tune.
The Grammy-winning 2+2 joined the group for the rest of the set. Featuring singers Mary Hylan, Angi Jaree, John Laird and Darryl Phinnessee, the foursome is a fine study of Fischer's own inventive harmonic sense. Tunes like "Free Fall" and "Morning," both composed by Fischer, displayed beautiful voicings--and voices--in gentle Latin grooves.
Vocal soloing is kept to a bare minimum, though one is aware that any of the young singers could easily fill a solo bill. An a cappella rendition of "The Night We Called It A Day" best showed their finely tuned voices, while "Shake Out All Those Blues," based by Fischer on Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat," showed their powerfully emotive style.
While Fischer's performance Friday night was superb, he could easily have shortened the set a bit by excluding a dated swing version of Meredith Willson's "You and I" and a commercially bent "Top Cat." Both seemed to be non sequiturs in an otherwise sensible set.