Thursday, 30 September 2010

It's Liza With A Z

As anyone who knows me intimately can tell you I have rather a big one. Now, now don’t let you dirty mind get you all carried away, what I am referring to is, of course, my comprehensive collection of CD’s and DVD’s. Barely a week goes by without me having to purchase the latest must have item for my listening or viewing pleasure, and the last week was no exception as I was woken with a thud on the doormat not once, not twice but three times (thank you as two CD’s and one DVD arrived. Unusually in this instance all three packages had one performer in common, the show business legend that is Liza Minnelli.

The first of these was “Cabaret And All That Jazz – The Liza Minnelli Anthology” , a by no means definitive collection largely culled from the recordings Ms Minnelli made for the Columbia label between 1972 and 1992. It’s a real pot-pourri of musical styles from a period where Liza was at her most creatively prolific. Much of the content was already in my collection so I am not going to particularly dwell on the tracks from “The Singer”, “Liza With Z” and the rather wonderfully bizarre 1977 album “Tropical Nights”, nor indeed the album that was to prove her most successful in terms of chart placing, 1989’s Pet Shop Boys’ produced “Results”. What made this album a must have was the inclusion of around a dozen tracks that had hitherto never been released on shiny silver disc. Back in the early nineties I had discovered a rather scratchy old second hand vinyl copy of “Liza Live At The Winter Garden” originally released in 1974. I have been waiting for twenty years for the album to be released on CD – to no avail – so when I saw that almost all of the albums tracks were to be included on this compilation I knew I just had to have it. Sadly the best version of her oft recorded “I Can See Clearly Now” was not included, but what remains includes four Minnelli classics. Liza’s first Broadway show, a decade earlier, was “Flora, The Red Menace”, and at the Winter Garden she performed, possibly the best ever versions of the lovely plaintive “A Quiet Thing” alongside the more rousing “I’m One Of The Smart Ones” from that show. After 1972’s “Liza With A Z” she returned with another piece of specially written material where she sang of people often saying they had a friend just like her with “Exactly Like Me” which possibly even betters the earlier song. However the undoubted highlight, which ranks as one of my personal Liza favourites is her rendition of Charles Aznavour’s “And I, In My Chair” a little known gem, conversational in style, that is almost a one act play in it’s own right telling the story of a woman at a party. This alone was the main reason that I bought this compilation, and one I will never regret.

Bringing things right up to date Liza has just released a new studio collection entitled “Confessions”. It’s a very different Minnelli we hear on this recording, a world apart from many of the recordings on the anthology. Vocally, now she is in her mid sixties, her voice hasn’t the range and energy it had in these earlier recordings, but she more than makes up for that in warmth. The repertoire she has chosen is perfect for the sultry husky tones she now has in a collection of late night jazzy tunes accompanied by her long time pianist Billy Stritch. The mood is set with the rather naughty “Confession” by Schwartz & Dietz where she claims that “I am always in bed by ten, and then go home at four” before launching into a swinging version of the Cy Coleman classic “You Fascinate Me So”, possibly my favourites amongst a collection of standards and little known gems that also includes “Close My Eyes” and Peggy Lee’s “He’s A Tramp”. Of particular interest for Liza fans is the rarely performed “On Such A Night Like This” which dates back to the sixties and was, I believe composed for an un-produced musical that was to have starred Liza alongside Jeanette McDonald, with a lyric that pays homage to her mother Judy Garland, amongst many others. If you are looking for a mellow jazzy album, for late evening, to enjoy alongside good conversation and a glass of your favourite tipple then “Confessions” would make a very good choice.

Lastly I come to the DVD of “Liza’s At The Palace”, when Liza is in front of an audience a magical alchemy happens, and this concert is no exception. Liza makes a few jokes about not being able to do what she used to, but then again who can at 64? Let’s face it Liza at 64 is so much more than many at half her age. Of all the concerts Liza has performed this one is probably her most autobiographical as she pays tribute to both of her parents, and most notably her godmother Kay Thompson. These days Kay is best known for her outrageously camp “Think Pink” number in the classic Hollywood musical “Funny Face”, but other than a recreation of that movie’s “Clap Yo’ Hands” this concert looks to her night club act from the late forties that she performed with the Williams Brothers. It’s quite unlike anything that you ever see these days and really infectious in it’s energy. Of the other material there are three undoubted highlights. Firstly, the specially written “I Would Never Leave You” which is evocative of Shirley Bassey’s recent “The Performance” collection, as it deals with an older performer looking back on her life. A real treat is a rare performance of “I Am My Own Best Friend” that Liza first performed in her brief Broadway stint of “Chicago” in the mid-seventies and has never previously recorded. The third highlight, which I was lucky enough to see her perform at the Albert Hall in 1992, is another Charles Aznavour song “What Makes A Man A Man” which unusually for the period it was written (forty years ago) deals with homosexuality . Particularly unusual is the fact that Liza sings it as a man playing a woman. Not camp at all!

In closing, all of these items come highly recommended for fans of Liza both old and new. I hope you enjoy them!

No comments: