Some shows don’t connect the way you hope they would. While not an indication of an artist’s relative quality, preparation or honest-to-God skill, some times even the best efforts of an artist just fall short of magnificent results. Call it a moment out of time, or even just a confection that doesn’t taste as sweet as you wish it did, some shows fall victim to circumstance and are squarely in this category. Tonight’s Bryan Ferry and Cécile McLorin Salvant show at the Hollywood Bowl is one such show fitting this motif.
The show opened with modern jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant. Salvant is a Miami born, well-schooled singer boasting an impressive multi-octave range. Playing a mix of standards and musical movie covers, Salvant takes a widely divergent approach to rendering these classic songs. Her crack band featuring pianist Aaron Diehl, bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers plays a nimble, improvisational musical accompaniment while Salvant darts like a bumble bee vocally around the music. Through covers like “The Trolley Song” and Burt Bacharach’s “Wives & Lovers,” Salvant puts the premium on whole octave jumps up and down in scale. The relative timbre of her voice is smooth and soft, but the choices she makes are daring to say the least. While not devolving into laughable scat-based nonsense, she jumps sonically so much it’s almost distracting. It’s clear her technical skill is far beyond what any average person could dream of rendering. Yet, these choices don’t always make for the most enjoyable listen. It leaves you wanting her to stay in one range just a little longer so it’s possible to enjoy just how skilled she is.
For those unfamiliar, tonight’s headliner Bryan Ferry is something of a revered legend in modern alternative music. Ferry first came to the public’s eye as the singer of the beloved band Roxy Music (that for a while even featured Brian Eno on keyboards). During Roxy Music’s heyday Ferry began releasing solo albums and continued doing so successfully since their initial break-up in the early ‘80s all the way through now. Having arrived at music royalty elder statesman status, it only makes sense that he would be featured in a headlining set at the Hollywood Bowl. If that wasn’t enough, this show also promised accompaniment by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra with conducting by concertmaster Thomas Wilkins. It’s sad to say, but it just may have been too much of a good thing.
Ferry’s voice has always been one of a more nuanced croon. Something that comfortably resides in between edgy cool and warm romance. While it is always a treat to hear the full range of orchestral palette that the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra is capable of, it almost felt on this evening as if it was too much for Ferry’s even-tempered voice to compete with. It sounded like through the duration that Ferry had to over reach to try to keep his voice resting atop the mix. The result was his voice sounding shaky and not on par with the smooth intonation and quality he’s been known for.
The set was split more-or-less evenly between classic Roxy Music cuts and singles from throughout Ferry’s solo career. Opener “The Main Thing” came from Roxy Music’s beloved 1982 album Avalon. Later in the evening “Avalon” and hit single “More Than This” from the album also were performed. Each had some of the biggest reactions from the audience on hand. From his solo career cuts such as “Slave to Love,” “Simple Twist of Fate” (from his Bob Dylan cover album Dylanesque) and “A Wasteland / Windswept” were sprinkled through, keeping respectable form with the greats from the Roxy Music catalog played. Much like Salvant’s band earlier, Ferry’s band featured a supremely impressive array of musicians. Not the least of which were lead guitarist Jacob Quistgaard, bassist Neil Jason, violinist Marina Moore and saxophonist Jorja Chalmers. Each had moments of excellent musicianship (like Jason on “Stronger Through the Years” or Quistgaard and Moore trading solos on “Out of the Blue”).
From the album Bête Noire title track and “Zamba” (featuring charming Spanish guitar from Chris Spedding) came one after the other. Two of Roxy Music’s oldest songs had some of the best results of anything on the evening: “Remake / Remodel” and “In Every Dream Home a Heartache.” The latter of which in particular wisely allowed Ferry to be accompanied by treated keyboards, letting the song have an ominous and sedate tone before finally dialing up the energy in the song’s final moments. The crowd was on its feet for Roxy Music songs “Avalon” and “Love is the Drug,” but they might have been the set’s final high points. “Virginia Plain,” “Do the Strand” and a cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” closed out the set and the night. No time for encores, set had to end sharp-ish at 10:25.
It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about a show like this. On paper, it should be majestic. Bryan Ferry is a classy guy and a phenomenal singer, and seeing him with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra ought to have made for a magical once-in-a-lifetime performance. Somehow, it just didn’t click though. While Ferry’s voice may sound shakier than it has in year’s past, there was no amount of laziness or lethargy on display here at least. It just wasn’t quite the brilliant show one would have hoped for.
File photo by Sharon Alagna