CD Review: Luba Mason “Triangle”

November 16, 2020 | By

First things first: I’m a huge fan of Luba Mason. She’s smart, funny, sensitive, playful, and has a great way with a song. But despite of all these superior qualities I find her new CD, Triangle, somewhat disappointing. I like the songs, her interpretations and the accompaniments all individually, but, as a total listening experience, these ingredients don’t seem to mesh. For a CD, I feel that there needs to be more diversity in the choice of program and instrumentation.

On the plus side, Ms. Mason’s exquisite control and beautiful voice are wonderful and always leave the audience knowing that they’re in safe hands. One thing I especially like about Luba Mason is that she’s not one of those cabaret singers who continually increase the volume of their singing,  mistaking the sudden rise in decibels with heightened emotion. Listening to David Yazbek’s song “Holed’s Song About Love,” from The Band’s Visit, I’m so impressed with the depth of interpretation Luba imparts in such an understated way.

“Ticket to Ride” and “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” are delightful surprises and she and her accompanists somehow make both songs transcend their pop underpinnings. Her sure control of the beat and emphasis on their smart lyrics make me think of what Peggy Lee did in her album of Beatles songs. And “Say It (Over and Over Again),” usually performed in a one-note kittenish sexuality, comes alive with Luba’s sly insistence marked with a touch of humor. And to be sexy and funny at the same time is an all too rare talent. 

Luba Mason (Photo: Travis Chantar)

The album is called Triangle for an obvious reason:  Ms. Mason is backed by three extremely skilled backup musicians:  On vibes Joe Locke, on guitar (acoustic and electric) James Genus, and on percussion, Samuel Torres.  And their accompaniment on each tune is expertly crafted. Unlike many other recordings, the band never tries to show off or pull focus. They lend her great support. However, for me as the CD goes on, every song’s accompaniment begins to sound pretty much the same. I’m a great fan of the vibraphone and Joe Locke is a true master. But having a vibraphone on every track, no matter how artistically and skillfully played, eventually becomes repetitious to the ear. With a piano you can get a much wider range of colors using multiple octaves. I’m certainly not saying that there always should be a piano on every recording. But here the vibes are always front and center behind Luba while neither of the other musicians seems to get a chance to take stage. It would have been nice if either the bass or the percussion had been given prominence in accompanying her on a couple of numbers, proving that there are other sides to a triangle.

What I look forward to when listening to any performer is getting to know them more intimately through the album and be taken logically from start to finish by the performance, whether live or on disc. Up through track five I was going along willingly, but once past the halfway point I started feeling that there wasn’t going to be anything more revealing or different for her or her musicians to say. Though I’m constantly impressed by her remarkable instrument and the skill of the accompanists, I wasn’t ultimately taken on a sustained journey, either emotionally or intellectually.

I hadn’t realized at first that this was a live performance, but as soon as I heard  applause and audience whooping after one of her beautiful stylings, the mood was immediately broken. The audience response made it hard for one song to build on to the next.  Each number had to start from scratch instead of being allowed to ride on some seamless transition of emotions. If a recording  artist is presenting us with tracks from a  live performance (along with applause and audience reaction,) then, in my opinion, don’t hide it.  Embrace it.   Go all the way and have some applause on the performer’s entrance, even including some of the performer’s patter and a band play-out. 

This recording does make one important statement: Luba Mason is a terrific talent and should be much better known. She handles each individual song with sensitivity and intelligence. And the three musicians are all at the top of their game. Unfortunately, as a grouping of songs making up a recording, Triangle leaves me wanting for a greater range of  styles and approaches, as well as a song order that leads the listener emotionally from one place to another. Still, I’ll eagerly look forward to the next recording by this wonderful performer. Luba Mason merits that kind of attention. 

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary

About the Author ()

Ken Bloom is a Grammy Award-winning authority on American popular song and musical theatre. As a co-founder of Harbinger Records, he has produced fifty albums including performing artists Peggy Lee and Maxine Sullivan (Grammy nomination), and songwriters Harold Arlen, Bock and Harnick, Cy Coleman, Hugh Martin, Jones and Schmidt, Charles Strouse, Kander and Ebb, among many others. He and Richard Carlin won the Grammy Award for Best Album Notes for "Shuffle Along." Ken has written sixteen books on Broadway, Hollywood, popular songs, theatre anecdotes, and has most recently co-authored "Eubie Blake: Rags, Rhythm and Race." His books have won the George Freedley Award, New York Times’ top reference book of the year, Choice Magazine Award, and have sold over 100,000 copies. On radio he was an arts reporter for NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.” He most recently co-produced, directed, and wrote the documentary "Merely Marvelous: The Dancing Genius of Gwen Verdon." A complete biography can be found on Wikipedia.

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