This isn’t the first Alan and Marilyn Bergman program I’ve seen – even in the last six months. But one welcomes every opportunity to hear the lyrics of this extraordinary, ongoing team, who surely rank with the greatest of all living songwriters, in any genre, way up there with Dave Frishberg, Jerry Herman, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Webb, or even Mr. Sondheim. Yet putting together a whole show of their music can be challenging for the simple reason that they didn’t write songs like “The Frim Fram Sauce,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” or even “Save the Bones for Henry Jones.” Their songs are not only almost exclusively straightforward love songs, they are amazingly consistently “on message” – every one of them seems to say, “I Will Love You Forever.” The sheer variety of ways that they find to communicate this point, working with a dozen or so of the great composers of our time, is what gives their songs, and Ms. Sutton’s show, it’s strength.
Perched on a stool – like a younger, blonder, sexier Mabel Mercer – Ms. Sutton dispenses both songs and wisdom from her long friendship and working relationship with the Bergmans. It’s to her credit that she’s brought forward any number of lesser known works from their collective canon, even for those of us who assumed we’d already memorized every word they’d written. Among these most of us were hearing for the first time were “Ev’ry Now and Then” (with Dave Grusin, and used as a lead in to the classic “The Windmills of Your Mind”), “Moonlight” (John Williams), and a new-ish number, “Love May Take a While,” with music by Pat Metheny, a celebrated contemporary jazz guitarist not widely known as a songwriter. Along the way, there well-constructed medleys of the couple’s epic songs with the late M. Legrand and of their work with Brazilian composers (surely an under-appreciated part of their legacy). She ends with the unavoidable “Where Do You Start,” a classic song that I would prefer never to have to listen to again, simply because it destroys me every time, but then had mercy on us by encore-ing with the more optimistic (and seasonably appropriate) “You Must Believe in Spring.”
For the last three years, the 2016 The Sting Variations (Gordon Sumner, not Scott Joplin or Marvin Hamlisch) has been my favorite of her albums, but a Tierney Sutton Bergman songbook album might easily eclipse it.
With Mitch Forman, piano, and Trey Henry, bass.
Photo by David Andrako
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