Singer Chris Connor emphasized her strengths at the Corcoran Gallery of Art yesterday afternoon. Her resonant bottom range, highly refined phrasing and creamy sustained vowels turned the formal, pillared Hammer Auditorium into an intimate cabaret setting. The 54-year-old vocalist did betray weaknesses with high notes, fast tempos, loud passages and improvisations, but she wisely avoided those situations for most of the show. Thus she sacrificed dynamics for control. Ironically, the slower, lower and softer she sang, the more attention she commanded.
The first set was devoted to songs associated with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, where Connor made her name in 1953. With the help of Richard Rodney Bennett's new arrangements, Connor scaled down the jazz swing standards into pithy pop numbers. Her backing trio ably shadowed her without ever calling attention to itself. When the trio set a fast pace on Cole Porter's "Get Out of Town," Connor held the long notes against the grain with exquisite phrasing. On Harold Arlen's "Ill Wind" she reached deep in her voice for simmering, sustained notes that underscored the ballad's uneasy theme.
On "All About Ronnie," her hit with Kenton, Connor's perfectly proportioned pauses and understated delivery gave the love song a satiny grace. The second set showcased her current repertoire. The show opened the fourth season of Joel Siegel's Great American Songwriters series.