Maria Corsaro
You Taught My Heart to Sing
October 16, 2021
Pangea

By Sarah Downs

Maria Corsaro returns to her first love, singing, in her new cabaret “You Taught My Heart to Sing.”  Backed by a superior trio of musicians comprised of pianist and Musical Director Gregory Toroian, bassist Skip Ward and drummer David Silliman, Corsaro treated us to an evening of jazz from various eras, all with smashing arrangements by Toroian.

Corsaro included in her show songs in the Vocalese style, where words have been added post composition, following the melody set by an instrumental solo variation. This kind of layered history is interesting, and she and director Sue Matsuki have joined in the fun by adding words to the Desmond/Brubeck instrumental piece “Take Five.” It makes a great opening number, and I would have enjoyed hearing it a little more clearly. Corsaro has a has a warm low range and a very clean head voice, but between competing with the full jazz sound of the band and perhaps a little hesitancy on her part, Corsaro initially faced had some challenges carrying over the instruments. As the evening progressed, however, that balance did improve.

Corsaro partners with her trio, generously giving space for their seamless performance. The McHugh/Fields tune “I’m in the Mood for Love,” with a vocalese of an improvised sax solo by James Moody (transforming it into “Moodys’s Mood”) showcases the excellent skills of the individual players.  Toroian’s piano was jazzy, fluid even, breezy yet precise. Ward on bass smiled as he plucked warm color and unique melody from his instrument; and on percussion, Silliman demonstrated assured control of time signature and panache. His solos have style but don’t overwhelm the music.

Corsaro’s patter was enjoyable as well. She exhibited both personality and humor, especially when telling of her musical inspirations, and her stories about meeting various jazz greats.  Matsuki has clearly encouraged Corsaro to be spontaneous, even as she has also helped guide her still, emotional focus.

“Zingaro,” a/k/a “Black & White” (Jobim/Buarque) begins in quiet simplicity.  Gentle tones in the bass and the soft brush of chimes suspend time. The anticipation was delicious. And, when Silliman moves the drums into a beat, the transition from quiet ballad to Brazilian dance is well executed. Yes, it’s a song of regret, but not all regret is slow and sad. Similarly, the Correa/Jareau tune “Spain” opens with a sort of magical feeling. As it is the song whose echo prompted Corsaro to create this cabaret, that feeling is very fitting.

One possible hiccup in the lineup of jazz from different decades was David Foster’s “Through the Fire,” or as it was originally titled “Chaka” (yes, written for the legendary Chaka Khan). The song is 1984 incarnate and did not wear as well as the other music featured on the program. Whether a walking bass, toe tapping syncopation or romantic blue notes, jazz lives in a world of it’s own, leaving “Through The Fire” feeling a bit anachronistic.

The Hersch/Winstone song “Valentine,” the one post-millennium song in her set, plays a little like a stylish musical theater piece. This sense of character gives Corsaro something to sink her teeth into. With every opportunity for her to take her time with the music, her voice shows more color and heft. She particularly shines in the haunting Bill Evans tune “Turn Out the Stars.” In it Corsaro demonstrates compelling stillness, capturing our full attention. There was some difficulty hearing her at times, particularly in the up tempos “Take Five” and the Eigenberg/Camilo song “Why Not”. These tempi were a little too fast, making enunciation and projection difficult for this otherwise accomplished singer.

In “You Taught me How to Sing,” Maria Corsaro turns Pangea into a little jazz club.  Poised center stage in the spotlight in a mauve evening dress, in the glow of saturated pink and blue lighting, she sings with true sincerity.  Intimate space, kicking band, clinking glasses, hushed voices and voila, we were definitely hanging with the cool cats.

You Taught My Heart to Sing at Pangea Restaurant (178 Second Ave.); Starring Maria Corsaro;

Directed by Sue Matsuki;
Pianist/Music Director Gregory Toroian
Bass: Skip Ward
Drums: David Silliman
Additional performances November 7th at 2pm and December 9th at 7:00 pm.
www.pangeanyc.com, tel.# 212-995-0900