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In their early twenties, Sirota and Brunner served as quick-witted accompanists, soloists and foils throughout the truncated 70-minute performance. The opening set included a rhythmically slippery and thoroughly crowd-pleasing reprise of Clarke's signature fusion hit "School Days," an acoustic and comparatively sleek take on Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and a version of "Funny How Time Flies (When You're Having Fun)" that nearly produced a sleep-inducing lull until Brunner began to flex his muscle. Unfortunately, with a long line of late-show ticket holders waiting outside, Clarke didn't have much time to unveil new pieces, apart from the cheerfully orchestrated and season-appropriate "Toys." Chances are the trio will stretch out and amp up during the remainder of the engagement, which runs through Sunday.
-- Mike Joyce
Tribute to Harold Arlen
You would expect a performance called "Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Tribute to Harold Arlen" to feature (a) the BSO and (b) Arlen's music. Wrong on both counts.
Thursday night's concert at Strathmore Music Center should have been called "John Pizzarelli's Nightclub Act." Pizzarelli's stage-center quartet (Larry Fuller, piano; Martin Pizzarelli, bass; Tony Tedesco, drums) was so overmiked that Andrew Constantine and the 70-piece BSO could barely be heard in its backup role. For much of the evening, Constantine -- a conductor of real style and verve -- was reduced to standing, doing nothing, as the quartet played alone.
The music of Arlen (1905-1986; born Hyman Arluck) appeared only in the second half of the program. Arlen wrote some 400 songs, but "Follow the Yellow Brick Road," "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive" and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" went unplayed. Pizzarelli offered fairly ordinary arrangements of "It's Only a Paper Moon" and "I've Got the World on a String," a good instrumental of "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" and the famed "Over the Rainbow," sung without innocence or yearning.
As a singer, Pizzarelli is a pretty good guitarist. His playing is fast, furious and often creative, but his midrange voice is raspy and became off-pitch as the evening progressed. His frequent scat singing -- always with a pained expression -- didn't help Arlen's music or the first-half standards ("Pick Yourself Up," "Route 66," etc.).
Large, airy, blond-wood, smoke-free Strathmore is no crowded, smoky nightclub. Blue and red lights accomplished little. "Don't You See What Troubles Me?" wrote Arlen. "First You Have Me High (Then You Have Me Low)."
-- Mark J. Estren