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Musical odd couple exhibit style and grace

March 26, 2004|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Michael Feinstein and Jimmy Webb together on the same stage?

Yes indeed.

There they were on Wednesday night at Feinstein's at the Cinegrill, a musical odd couple if there ever was one, seated at a pair of closely positioned grand pianos.

It's actually a partnership that has been several years in the making, culminating with the release last year of Feinstein's album "Only One Life: The Songs of Jimmy Webb," followed by a national tour by the duo.

Feinstein put matters in perfect context Wednesday when, noting the curiosity over the collaboration, he whimsically remarked, "Well, he is a living composer." And therefore a marked contrast from the long-gone writers of the songs in the Great American Songbook usually favored by Feinstein.

The comment also implicitly raised a qualitative question regarding Webb's presence among the Gershwins, Porters and Berlins. Given the fact that Webb songs such as "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Up, Up and Away" have been among the most popular and recorded works of the last 40 or so years, it was a reasonable question to raise, as a subtext or otherwise.

The answers were mixed. Feinstein's opening rendering of the combination of "After All the Loves of My Life" and "Only One Life" was exquisite, a graceful blend of his sweet-toned voice, lovely melodies and touching lyrics. So, too, for "Didn't We" and "The Moon's a Harsh Mistress," the enigmatic Webb song first popularized by Judy Collins. And the often overdone "Up, Up and Away" surfaced as a floating bossa nova, sung by Feinstein to the orchestral track from the album, with Webb adding piano accents.

What might be described as Webb's road songs -- "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Highway Man" and "Wichita Lineman" -- were better suited to the writer's own voice, with their story qualities and gentle tinges of country.

And "Nobody Likes to Hear a Rich Boy Sing the Blues" provided a useful item for the sometimes overly scripted-sounding exchanges between the two.

But when Feinstein interrupted the evening's flow with a brief medley of Gershwin songs, Webb's positioning in the overall scheme of things became more apparent.

Like the Gershwins', his music uniquely reflects his own time and place, with extraordinary effectiveness in his better works.

And it is to Feinstein's credit that he has chosen to position those Webb songs, in particular, as deserving entries in the Great American Songbook.


Michael Feinstein & Jimmy Webb

Where: Feinstein's at the Cinegrill, Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood.

When: Today, 8 p.m., and Saturday, 8 and 10 p.m.

Price: $50 cover plus $35 food and beverage minimum

Contact: (323) 769-7269.

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