The Corcoran's Great American Songwriters Series concluded another season last evening with a splendid performance of Curtis Lewis' "Garden of the Blues" suite by the Shirley Horn Quartet. Surprisingly, this was only the second time the suite, written in 1958, has been performed in its entirety. Surprising, because in Lewis' urban garden bloom four distinct flowers, each represented by a song evoking a different mood. To fully appreciate one song, you must hear them all -- sung, preferably, by someone as gifted as Shirley Horn.
As a singer, pianist and narrator, Horn brought a poignant intimacy to Lewis' words and music. This was particularly apparent on "Blue City" (Search for the Rose) and "He Never Mentioned Love" (Narcissus), where Horn's tenderly expressive phrasing made for some breathtaking moments. But even when the mood was less restrained, for example when the rhythm section of bassist Steve Novosel, guitarist Charles Ables and drummer Warren Shad turned boisterous on "The Great City" (Deadly Nightshade), Horn seemed the perfect choice to interpret Lewis' vision of contemporary urban life. The music clearly touched her, and, in turn, touched the audience.
With typical taste and sensitivity, Horn devoted the second half of the program to more familiar selections from her repertoire.