LATE NIGHT LAVENDER

LATE NIGHT LAVENDER

Thursday, October 15, 2009

NOW HEAR THIS! PATRICK ARENA "Night and Day": A Review


PATRICK ARENA "Night and Day": A Review


"Night and Day" is the title track and the first song on Pittsburgh singer/songwriter Patrick Arena's incandescent third album. "Night and Day", the song, was one of composer Cole Porter's most emblematic creations. The original version of the oft-redone standard was written for the 1932 musical "Gay Divorce", and it became a number one song for Frank Sinatra in 1943. Opining on the song's enduring popularity to this day, Arena has stated his belief that "Night and Day" was "perhaps Porter's most perfect and beautiful song." Arena's 2008 version, not to be outdone, makes quite an impression: It opens with only Patrick's voice suspended in a haunting, almost otherworldly aura. Slowly, a few beats make their way in, and as the listener is seduced, the song slowly turns from ethereal to feverishly romantic, with Mr. Arena demonstrating his entire vocal range-- or so we think. It's actually just the beginning! Porter's music may have been a fertile source of inspiration for Patrick Arena, but there's no denying that this artist, via his passionate interpretations, draws an even deeper meaning and new dimensions from the original song. Throughout "Night and Day" the album, Arena does this not just with the title track, but with some well-chosen classics begging to be heard again, such as "I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco" and "It's a Most Unusual Day". His original songs are jazz classics destined to be discovered. "Barefoot Boy" is an example of that. Arena gives us a playful delivery and lyrics to match: "I'm just a barefoot boy enjoyin' my joy; Got an average mentality, a skinny-dip reality; A barefoot boy enjoyin' my joy; Well I sparkle in the sunlight and mellow out at midnight...".voix naturelle runs on the deeper end of the spectrum, but his ultimate range appears to be endless. His delivery, as we learn throughout the album, never wavers or hesitates for a second. It's strong and grounded but as versatile as any of Arena's well-renowned male jazz vocalist peers-- with a seemingly innate, unique shade of soul.

Patently as boyish and impish as the title suggests, it's no more and no less than a pure jazz joy. His repertoire of songs aside, Arena's greatest asset is, hands down, his voice. Patrick's
Arena's "How Could I Not Love You", the second track, boasts a tropical-flavored jazz sound. It's romantic, yet like "Barefoot Boy" which follows, there's a playful feel-- largely due to the song's buoyant rhythm. "Moonlight", written by late singer/songwriter (and Arena's friend) Tom Briggs, features a sparse, almost minimalist musical composition, although the richness in Arena's performance is anything but minimal. Although a somber tone predominates throughout this ballad, there's actually a very palpable musical silver lining of hope running through. Infinite meanings can be interpreted. Next up is Arena's piano-driven, old-school jazz take on "It's A Most Unusual Day", written by Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh ("Well it's a most unusual time, I keep feeling my temperature climb; If my heart won't behave in the usual way-- Well, there's only one thing to say: It's a most unusual, most unusual, most unusual day!"). It's a prime example of how simple lyrics and a simple message can make for an extraordinary feeling-- but only when they are in the hands of an accomplished artist. Next up is another gem on the album: "In My Body". The truly one-of-a-kind song was written by Dan Martin and Michael Biello. It's a joyous, upbeat celebration of reaching the goal of loving and accepting oneself body and soul-- which, for many, is often a decades-belated victory. The lyrics, which are heavily spiritual, are inspiring; and the song is ripe with metaphysical undertones that stay with the listener long after the song is over. "In My Body" is a well-chosen song for Arena, as it can only be sung by an artist who believes every lyric. The ending is no less than stunning. For "Belvedere", written by Arena, the singer adopts a rather operatic tone as he croons, "Belvedere-- heal me, shield me from harm; Feel the sea cast a mid-summer charm...". He portrays the titular landmark on New York's Fire Island as a home away from home. Indeed, the Belvedere-- a gated guest house on the water with a classic Venetian sense of decor-- is indeed a true getaway on Fire Island, which is already is a getaway from civilization itself. Arena also pays homage to San Francisco (a city which has been such a prolific source of inspiration for songwriters and other artists for decades), although in a very-- shall we say, "different" way, musically, than "Belvedere". For his take on the Tommy Wolf favorite "I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco", Arena vividly translates the intoxicating joy of being in the City by the Bay to music. For the first time on the album, the artist shows more than a fair amount of abandon as he clearly enjoys himself singing, "I'm always drunk in San Francisco, I'm never feeling any pain; But tell me, why does San Francisco, just like a lover's kiss, go straight to my brain? I guess it's just the mood I'm in, that acts like alcohol; Because I'm drunk in San Francisco, and I don't drink at all!" "Where Have You Been All My Life", written by Arena and Michael Sandwick, combines the simultaneous thrills of puppy love in the afternoon and bedroom-eyed romanticism at night. Patrick's reliable vox (He expertly incorporates his own voice for background vocals as well!), the samba/jazz rhythm, and priceless piano work by Skip Peck make this song yet another high point on the album. For a conclusion, Arena ends with a bona fide showcase for his voice, the Alan & Marilyn Bergman/Michel Legrand song "What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life". Like "Night and Day", this classic has been redone many times through the years. Arena, through his delicately romantic interpretation, not only shows the classic the respect it has earned, but makes the song his own-- particularly with his impressive finale.


Every song on "Night and Day" is a bona fide performance, with its own history, climax, and message to its listener. Throughout the album, Arena's voice again and again demonstrates the singer's unyielding skill and discipline, yet his delivery is always seemingly effortless and as smooth as burgundy-colored satin. After listening to "Night and Day", the CD's cover design seemed very appropriate; Like the background for the photos, the CD on the inside is a true, one-of-a-kind work of art itself.


Jed Ryan

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