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JAZZ REVIEW

All Evans needs is some heart

December 01, 2006|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The word "crooner" dominates every piece of publicity about singer Brian Evans, from his website to reviews of his albums and concerts. Evans, himself, uttered it during his performance Wednesday at Catalina Bar & Grill. This, despite the derogatory connotation it carried when it first surfaced in the '30s, and "crooners" such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra were not pleased with the label.

Nonetheless, Evans' program -- much of it drawn from the Sinatra canon -- underscored the 36-year-old singer's desire to position himself in the generally accepted line of crooner succession reaching from Crosby and Sinatra to Perry Como to Johnny Mathis and beyond. And there was no question that -- blessed with a smooth range reaching from a low baritone to a chesty tenor, and a warm timbre -- he had the vocal capacity to do so.

What was missing was a sense of what crooning is really about. The style developed in direct association with the arrival of the microphone, with its ability to reproduce a greater range of aural and emotional variation than was typical in the megaphone vocalizing (think Al Jolson) that preceded it. Singers quickly found ways to lower the volume and deliver their songs with engaging, in-the-ear -- call it crooning -- intimacy.

But most of Evans' vocals, despite the attractive qualities of his voice, were sung with monochromatic emotional coloration and unrelenting dynamic intensity.

The only real sense of variation was supplied, for the most part, by the articulate saxophone work of Doug Webb and the sturdy rhythm backing of drummer Harold Acey and bassist "Chicago" Tommy Palmer. The exception, "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" -- sung with the sole accompaniment of pianist Cal Bezemer -- revealed Evans' still-nascent capacity to do something more than simulate Sinatra's style.

At a time when young performers such as Michael Buble and Jamie Cullum, as well as seasoned veterans such as Steve Tyrell, Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton, are revisiting the songbook of standards with their own versions of crooning, it's understandable that Evans -- who has been deeply involved in the genre for more than a decade -- would stay the course with a style that so readily fits his vocal abilities. But he needs to find a way to apply those abilities to the deeper, more expressive aspects that are the heart and soul of genuine crooning.

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