On a wintry Thursday night, I had the delight of spending a dinner evening at a nice cozy jazz venue and taking in the superb vocal styling’s of a great young vocalist named Alex Samaras and his world-class support of pianist David Restivo and bassist Mike Downes.
From the get-go, this trio did not disappoint. It was vocal jazz at its most soulful, emotional, creative, and risk-taking at its best.
Alex opened with “All The Things You Are”, a tried tested and true standard. Instead of singing it straight, he plays around with the lyric, even sings bass notes and lines, and fully engages and interacts with the instrumentalists like a horn player. I really appreciate vocalists who take risks and do more with the material instead of singing it straight off the book.
The bulk of the evening comprised of obscure torch songs that have never been explored in a jazz context and is more in the realms of musical theatre. Alex Samaras is known for his work with Bobby Hsu’s “Sondheim Jazz Project”, and he performed some works by Stephen Sondheim in his performance. “What More Do I Need” was treated as a spirited swing tune, and “Show Me” is another swing tune that works well in a jazz context after being transplanted from musical theatre.
The highlight of the night has got to be Alex’s take on a VERY obscure song, which happens to be one of my new favourite songs. His ballad treatment of Sammy Fain/Alan and Marilyn Bergman’s “Better All The Time” really touched my heart since it is a love song sung straight from the heart. Alex really communicated that when you fall in love with someone (or in my case, God), the relationship gets better as days go on. I loved it and was moved so much I even shed a few tears and earnest asked for the sheet music so I could learn it for myself.
Another highlight is his voice and bass take on the classic standard “Thou Swell”. It was one of the most creative and playful moments of the evening and this is where Alex really took off as a creative vocalist. His improvisational scat was very musical and he really dug into the bass of Mike Downes, who provided creative timekeeping throughout.
Another duo feature, “If Ever I Would Leave You”, featured Alex with Dave Restivo on piano. Alex showed daft emotion and heart when communicating this song to the audience, and Dave provided accompaniment that was tasteful and very sensitive to the atmosphere of the song.
With good food, fine ambience, and great music from world-class musicians, it was surely a night to remember.
ALEX SAMARAS OFFICIAL WEB SITE:
(Dave Restivo, Alex Samaras, and Mike Downes)