By Stanford Friedman
You can’t have a proper celebration of film noir music without a murder, so it is fortunate that Melissa Errico kills during her cinematic and sultry concert that fully embraces the genre. The show is hiding out for just a short while in the downstairs theater at Birdland, in support of the singer’s latest album, Out Of The Dark. The stage, lit in moody indigo and draped in an oh so blue curtain provides an intimate perch for Errico, herself draped in a sequined, midnight black gown. She brings a clarion voice and sly sense of humor to a collection of songs, old and new, in which love has gone wrong, gone missing or has never shown up in the first place. It’s the perfect Valentine’s night out for couples in search of a romantic evening with an edge.
Aided and abetted by a quintet of veteran jazzmen, Errico takes flight with a set of 15 songs beginning with “It was Written in the Stars,” from the 1948 film, Casbah, and “Angel Eyes,” a 1946 ditty that instructs, “Try to think that love’s not around, / But it’s uncomfortably near.” Other blasts from that decade include the forlorn “Haunted Heart,” and a borderline noir Rodgers and Hammerstein effort from 1947’s Allegro, entitled “The Gentleman is a Dope” (“He’s just a lug/You’d like to hug/And hold against your heart.”).
If that is not quirky enough, there is Sondheim’s “Sooner or Later,” from the movie, Dick Tracy. Errico good-naturedly tries to pluck out its melody on a ukulele. And a song called “Amour, Amour” bounces along like a cha-cha, though the tune is borrowed from a piece written in 1970 by Michel Legrand. The surprisingly poignant “Blame it on My Youth” features music and lyrics by Oscar Levant and Edward Heyman written in 1934, when they were in their angsty 20’s.
Errico’s banter between numbers, if not as captivating as her New York Times essays, is full of filmish fun as she reels off what it means to be a femme fatale in the age of Covid lockdowns, with a husband and three children to care for.
The Tedd Firth Quintet is in fine form backing up their star. David Mann provides the soulful wailing sax solos that are a hallmark of the genre, and guitarist Russ Malone shows off his chops honed from decades of work with the likes of Harry Connick, Jr. and Diana Krall. Firth, meanwhile, is as dangerous a man behind the keyboard as Bogie was behind a pistol. And though I’ve seen him come out blazing in the past, here he appropriately teases the ivories like a concealed weapon, full of fire power without being showy about it. In one of the evening’s highlights, he illustrates how to transform a pleasant melody (“Edelweiss,” on the night I attended) into a noir theme by employing the appropriate minor chords. Errico’s generosity in sharing the stage for this type of demonstration is just one of the qualities that make her so likable. She’s a welcome presence even when playing dismissive, as with a 1952 Harry Warren and Leo Robin song where she declares, “I’ll be checkin’ my heart while he’s checkin’ his hat tonight.”
Melissa Errico: A Noir Romance
Melissa Errico with the Tedd Firth Quintet, featuring Tedd Firth on piano, Eric Halvorsen on drums, David Finck on bass, Russ Malone on guitar and David Mann on horns, at Birdland, 315 W 44th St.,(212) 581-3080, www.birdlandjazz.com. Feb. 13 at 8:30 PM; Feb. 14 at 5:30 & 8:30 PM. Running time: 90 minutes.