[This review originally appeared in the 3.22.07 issue of Metroland Magazine]
March 18, 2007
The ads billed him as a “hip Brooklyn-based jazz singer.” Well, he wasn’t that. I’ve read stuff that says he’s this heavily New Orleans-influenced dude. I guess a little maybe, but not really.
I don’t know what Howard Fishman is all about and I’m not sure he does either, and I’d guess we’re both OK with that. His two generous sets Sunday night were a blast, full of surprises, passion and fun. Fishman’s been toying with other people’s stuff recently, having just released a disk of songs culled from Dylan’s Basement Tapes sessions, and is currently working on a set of Hoagy Carmichael songs to be released later this year. His first set drew heavily from these projects, and the tunes were not covers so much as re-imaginings that fit the unusual band configuration of guitar, trumpet, violin and tuba.
There’s a danger in loading up on material from two of the best songwriters to walk the planet, the danger being that original stuff will pale by comparison. That sure didn’t happen here, in fact, the high points of the show were easily Fishman’s own rollicking songs. Fishman’s “Mary Ann” and “The Best is Yet To Come” are to-be classics, period, and they were dished out with all the grand style that a band with a tuba could muster.
The band killed, from Kevin Lewis’ cool blue trumpet, to Ron Caswell’s surprisingly facile tuba, to the gorgeous Stephan Grappelli influenced playing of violinist Mazz Swift[pictured above]. Her playing dazzled not so much from technique (which she had plenty of) but from hooks, taste and high style. Swift took over vocal duties on a couple songs and floored the room each time, her deep gospelly singing made a nice counterpoint to Fishman’s husky tenor.
There was nothing mysterious about Fishman and the band. Music doesn’t get more accessible and disarmingly honest than this, which is where the “hip Brooklyn” thing doesn’t ring true. And yeah, there’s a little loosy-goosey N’Awlins stuff going on, but it’s a small component of something else: simple, wonderful, and timeless songs, played well and with a twinkle in the eye.