Weimar Vegas

Former figure skater and Japanese arranger revive standards bebop won't touch

Fumio Yasuda and Theo Bleckmann
photo: Susie Knoll
Fumio Yasuda and Theo Bleckmann

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Theo Bleckmann & Fumio Yasuda
Las Vegas Rhapsody: The Night They Invented Champagne
Winter & Winter

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Hearing Theo Bleckmann sing "We Kiss in a Shadow" from another room, I half thought he was Nico. It was the trace of German in his fricatives and long vowels ("Our meetings are few/And over too soon"), but also the androgyny—in Bleckmann's case, a postmodern construct, a deliberate act of provocation, as opposed to Nico's all-fucked-out asexuality. I love Las Vegas Rhapsody: The Night They Invented Champagne, Bleckmann and pianist-arranger Fumio Yasuda's concept album of show tunes that stray from the he-man bebopper's approved jamming list (try "Out of My Dreams," from Oklahoma). But no one I've led to it has been quite as taken as I am—though one friend admits he hasn't been able to stop thinking about it, which might be just the reaction I was looking for. Too bad "haunting" has become depleted through overuse. Think Rufus Wainwright plus intonation and minus narcissism. Bleckmann, a competitive figure skater before becoming a Sheila Jordan protégé, is a member of Meredith Monk's ensemble and the wordless voice in drummer John Hollenbeck's orchestra. Although he scats convincingly here and there on Las Vegas Rhapsody, his real gift turns out to be for coaxing fresh meaning out of what one would have assumed were hopelessly dated lyrics—"We Kiss in a Shadow" could be about love in the closet. Multiplying himself by four on the catchy "Teacher's Pet" (the theme from a 1958 Clark Gable movie and the song Parker Posey auditioned with in Waiting for Guffman), he shoots past the Hi-Lo's to conjure up the Weimar Republic and the Comedian Harmonists. Yasuda demonstrates an unerring sense of when a lonesome glockenspiel or walking bass will do, and when to let the full Kammerorchester Basel rain down like Dvorak's Ninth (under Bleckmann's falsetto on the climax of "My Favorite Things," whose orientalism has nothing to do with Coltrane's modes). This is the future of cabaret, if cabaret knows what's good for it.

 
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