A successful cabaret act is a rare and special thing--in part because there are virtually no definitions of how to go about making one. The New York City duo of singer Judy Kreston and pianist David Lahm clearly have their own unique method of assembly.
Making their Los Angeles debut at the Gardenia Club last week with a far-ranging collection of material, they managed to include everything from larger-than-life dramatics to briskly swinging scat songs. As important as the choice of material were Kreston's whimsical sense of humor and her easy way of connecting with the audience.
Lahm, a gifted jazz composer-performer, played a low-key role, but his influence as arranger and music director permeated every piece. "Chicago," for example, made an unexpectedly humorous appearance via the familiar opening rhythms of "New York, New York." "Blue Skies" was matched--with surprising appropriateness--with "For Once in My Life," and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" found a perfect parallel in "You'll Never Walk Alone."
Kreston's voice was an effective vehicle whose only flaw was a tendency to get a bit too large and quavery during the more theatrical moments. Her superb sense of storytelling, however, turned songs like "I Did Something Right" and "Straight to Your Heart" into small cameos of intense, dramatic truth.
She was every bit as good with the gentle humor and brisk jazz that gave the set such a fine sense of pacing. "On the Sunny Side of the Street" (whose lyrics were written by Lahm's mother, Dorothy Fields) was sung in Hungarian for the simple reason that the duo recently discovered it is one of the most popular songs in Hungary. "Buyer Beware," a Dexter Gordon up-tempo swinger originally titled "McSplivins"--received new scat-style lyrics by Lahm and a breathtakingly rapid performance by Kreston.
Remarkably, all these diverse elements had no trouble at all coming together into an effective, entertaining cabaret turn. Kreston and Lahm are onto something, and it's something good.
Drummer Ron Vincent and bassist Steve Bailey provided a solid rhythmic foundation. The group's performance will be repeated at the Gardenia Club this week on Friday and Saturday.