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ABOU KARIM - Wednesday April 5, 2006
Portland Jazz Singers
Mitzi Zilka
Barbara Lusch
John Gilmore

The always-refreshing weekly event known as the Portland Jazz Singers Concert Series is now comfortably established in a new downtown setting: Abou Karim, the popular Lebanese restaurant and lounge at 221 SW Pine Street. Every week a program of talented local jazz singers share the spotlight with one set by each performer. On my most recent visit, the line-up was delightfully diverse in style as well as repertoire. One of Portland's versatile piano men, Mark Simon, provided skillful backing for the evening's three vocalists.

Mitzi Zilka, the enthusiastic force behind this unique series, opened with four tunes which exemplified her affection for the pieces. Mitzi convinced me that these were four of her favorites. There is a visual pleasure that comes from her sincere delivery. I think this is called "making it your own." Lazy Afternoon was a fine, languid opening cocktail that Simon seemed to enjoy amplifying as well. I've Never Been in Love Before was relatively new to Mitzi and she made it tell a story. Her phrasing on Close Your Eyes was frequently daring: the long pauses followed by rapid catch-ups made this my favorite of the set. Closing with Jobim's elegant Look to the Sky, Mitzi sang words she wrote herself. Worked for me!

Barbara Lusch sounds like she has an elaborate arrangement going on in her head as she sings. I hope to hear her with a large ensemble sometime. She seems to know exactly what she wants. Mark Simon watched and listened and played with rapid response as Ms. Lusch treated us to several chestnuts rarely heard (Oh Baby Come Home, Hallelujah I just Love Him So) and classics (Sentimental Journey, For All We Know and Why Don't You Do Right?). But her best was I Won't Dance, which was moving along nicely even before she broke out a chorus in French.

John Gilmore rounded out the evening with a batch of unbeatable standards. He defines the term "song stylist." A very classy treatment of Almost Like Being in Love, with the energy needed to perk up a third set on a school night. And it was a treat to hear strong renditions of How About You? and Since I Fell for You, both nicely handled by Simon as well.

For those of us who come out for more than one set and one drink, it adds to the musical experience to have really good food as well. Abou Karim's menu is a delicious adventure that makes for a complete evening. The size and the acoustics of the place seemed well-suited to vocals with piano. I hope the Jazz Singer Series gets an extended run here!


Barbara Lusch was JSO's Featured Musician of the Month July, 2005.


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