Saturday, 17 October 2015
Updated October 21
Steve Berndt featuring Brian Browne
Merrickville's Jazz Fest
Baldachin Inn Restaurant
Friday, October 16, 2015 – 6 p.m.
Pianist Brian Browne and vocalist and trombonist Steve Berndt have had a fruitful partnership since 2012, with two albums and a series of high-profile concerts. Both veterans of the Ottawa jazz scene, they share a love of the classic jazz standards – but are also willing to go beyond that repertoire.
Their Friday dinner-hour show at Merrickville's Jazz Fest was warmly received. The restaurant was full as they launched into a happy, swinging rendition of “Our Love is Here to Stay”. Berndt sang the lyrics tenderly and with great feeling, while Browne adding exactly the notes on keyboard needed to define the melody, with no extraneous flourishes. In one or two places, I thought Berndt sounded a bit hoarse (the cold, wet weather that evening was not good for voices) but it didn't distract from the feel of the song.
I continue to be impressed with Berndt's original compositions, which he wrote for the two albums. All bittersweet love songs, they're very much in the spirit of the Great American Songbook, but are also clearly in his own voice. They hold up well to repeated listenings.
At the show, they played all three originals from the two albums, starting with the first album's title track “Déjà Vu”. Berndt sang smoothly and with attention to the lyrics, while Browne underlined the melody with strong chords and lots of space. As the song continued, both became more syncopated and lively, evoking strong applause at the end.
When the two started their collaboration, Berndt made a point of only being a vocalist, in the spirit of the classic Bill Evans/Tony Bennett albums he modeled their duo after. But now he's bringing out his other musical love – his trombone – to their concerts. Their rendition of “Someone To Watch Over Me”, with him playing the melody on trombone, was a delight: a full-bodied, fluid rendition, underlined by fast, sparkling keyboard. Berndt noted at the end that this is a song normally only sung by women, so thought he'd play it on trombone instead.