Club Review: Mary Foster Conklin and Andrea Wolper

July 20, 2022 | By

Pangea Hot Summer Jazz Series, curated and hosted by singer Ben Cassara, continues apace with the inspired pairing of Mary Foster Conklin and Andrea Wolper.  The friends shared the vocalist chair in Art Lillard’s Heavenly Big Band for many years, but this was their first duo show. I wish that the well-programmed show had included a duet to start the show before the solo numbers began but that was not to be.

Andrea Wolper (Photo: Tracey Yarad)

However, what did open the evening was terrific—Wolper’s reinvention of Richard Rodgers’s “Something Good” from the film of The Sound of Music. Her slow and smoldering delivery, underscored by Yoshi Waki’s beautifully bowed bass, percolates into a percussive bounce with the addition of John DiMartino’s masterful piano before delivering some impressive scat runs. This take (arrangements by Wolper and Ken Filiano) was much spicier than I’m sure Rodgers ever imagined or intended and was an inspired introduction to a special evening.  Wolper, in turn, brought on Conklin for the first of a number of “summer songs”—“Night Song” (Charles Strouse, Lee Adams, from Golden Boy). Conklin’s breezy vocals and the insinuating rhythms of the arrangement underscored the warm weather longing for freedom and escape, as an expressive piano solo wove a spell of its own. 

Mary Foster Conklin

The first duet was a return to when they were “on the job” together; they paired “It Could Happen to You” (Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Burke) with Anne Phillips’s twisty, funny lyrics to Dexter Gordon’s solo on that song, transformed into “Fried Bananas,” capped with Conklin’s proviso, “No one gets hurt on this be-bop!” Wolper then debuted a brand new song she had written, “The Winter of Our Content,” which had a great title, a lovely simple melody, but lyrics that seemed a bit forced and prose-y. And new song or not, it was disheartening to see two music stands on stage with pages to which the two referred to at various times throughout the night.  Conklin followed with “Summertime”—but not the Gershwin classic. Instead, she dove deep into the Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson collaboration—“I wanna drive forever. I wanna roll my windows down…”  This once again visited the theme of escape and freedom, Conklin was a perfect match for the musical magic of Sharon Robinson, and I hope she investigates more of her work.

Conklin then gave us a jazz waltz, which she said was her favorite anti-depressant. The singer took full advantage of a classic that she had somehow never before attempted, “Day Dream” (Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington, John La Touche). Conklin’s trademark blend of modern intelligence and thoughtful phrasing with classic jazz styling was on full display.   Another Ellington tune brought Wolper back to the stage for the duo to tackle “Mood Indigo” (Duke Ellington, Barney Bigard, Mitchell Parish). Sure, sweet and strong support from DiMartino and Waki was a perfect counterpoint as the two vocalists matched, supported, and challenged each other, at times becoming each other’s sax solos, with Conklin’s acerbic wit punctuating throughout.  Describing the next “medley” of Annie Ross and Fran Landesman as “just too hip for the room,”  Conklin introduced “To Hell with Love” (Doc Pomus, Dr. John, from the movie Shortcuts) and Landesman’s poem “Cigarettes.” Conklin had used poetry in her exceptional Landesman tribute show and she was equally successful here. It was a truly crowd-pleasing moment.

Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Until It’s Time for You to Go” was given new life with a gorgeous arrangement based on Russ Kassoff’s instrumental version and impassioned vocals by Conklin. Wolper then used her last solo spot to shine with a moving reflection on “Lost in the Stars” (Kurt Weill, Maxwell Anderson).

The show closed with another memorable duet on “Stay Hip” (Rich Eames, Mark Winkler) introduced with a touching story that deepened the meaning and impact of the terrific lyrics. Introducing their encore as “a suspicious bossa nova,” they left the audience applauding for more after a spectacular version of “Only Trust Your Heart” (Benny Carter, Sammy Cahn) on which their voices blended like smooth, rich honey caressing the audience. I can only hope that for Mary Foster Conklin and Andrea Wolper this is but the first of many shows together. 

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Presented at Pangea on July 13.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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  1. Jennifer says:

    Love reading your reviews Gerry ♥️
    especially of these two very talented ladies