"The Best Is Yet to Come"
By Glen Creason
It was a juxtaposition of the greatest irony in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday night, sort of comparing peanut butter to caviar. On one hand the Brittany Spears concert at the Staples Center and on the other a drop party for the anthology tribute album to Cy Coleman entitled “the Best Is Yet to Come.” Swarming the Staples were young girls in outfits that would drain the blood from any parents head and over at the Grammy Museum theater a group of seasoned hipsters of another milieu. The party at the Grammy Museum featured four female vocalists who participated in the project and just happened to be available on the West Coast for this event. Unlike Ms. Spears they are all extremely talented but under-celebrated for their vocal gifts by the media. Well, who reads music writers anyway? The event featured a symposium on the exalted place of Cy Coleman in the great American songbook and just a sampler of the fine music given a fresh look on “the Best Is Yet to come.” I won’t bother to rehash the greatness of Maestro Coleman but anyone who has ever joyfully whistled the jaunty “Hey Look Me Over, “ “Witchcraft,” or “The Best Is Yet to Come” may not realize how exquisitely sensitive and musically complicated most of his compositions were through a career as a pianist, then composer, then show music giant. This album was lovingly conceived by those close to Coleman and brilliantly executed by pianist/arranger Dave Palmer. The songs certainly stand like monuments in the popular music skyline but Palmer’s arrangements here make them shine like new while keeping the essence of each. You won’t think of Sinatra but you will understand what Coleman was getting at on every song. Palmer's playing was at the center of all of these performances and his solo of "Witchcraft" was a sweet voyage of Cy Coleman discovery to begin the evening. On this night there were only four ladies presenting and they seemed like perfect cornerstones of the vast compositional monument of Cy Coleman. Julianna Raye took a completely different approach to “I’m Going to Laugh You Right Out of My Life” and made it an achingly beautiful torch song. Her voice has a rare quality that can kinetically convey longing and when she sang “but if I find you and I really meant that last goodbye, then I’m gonna laugh so hard I’ll cry” it made your heart shudder to hear it. On the album she sings the song wonderfully with a lilting bossa nova but this more minimal version focusing on her extraordinary voice certainly hit the spot. The veteran Jill Sobule was next up with the challenging “I’ve Got Your Number” that is pure Broadway with a need for a physical style and plenty of voice. She nailed it and appeared ready to take her place on the great white way, away from the popsters who want more Brittany and less Cy Coleman. The song is deceptively philosophical and Ms. Sobule conveyed the typically smart and sassy lyric perfectly. Another perfect example of substance over flash was the two pieces done by Sara Watkins, an amazing young talent who looks young and cute enough to be attending a Brittany concert. Watkins is an accomplished fiddle player and her singing is deeply moving and surprising from such a young looking performer. Her reading of “Too Many Tomorrows” just took you to this edge of this precipice of a delicately balanced love affair and made you feel it to the marrow. I really had to restrain a belted “bravo!” after the song. Last up, was Perla Batalla, one of the most versatile and polished of all performers on the disc. It was an extremely difficult position for any singer to step on stage after three bravura performances from women who gave everything to one song but it did not seem to faze this lady. She took “Hey Look Me Over” that might have been performed by High School glee clubs a few thousand times and turned it into a brilliant and exhilarating anthem of optimism that resonated far beyond even Coleman’s intentions. Starting slow with measured control that allowed the audience to think about the lyric that is normally passed over for the melody she built the song like a march toward a brighter future and finished with a rather breathtaking announcement of joy and confidence that left all the tubas and trombones behind. It reminded me of hearing Mandy Patinkin sing “Bali Hai”one night and thinking “so that is what that song means.” Cy Coleman left us only five years ago but on this Wednesday night and for many spins of this disc his legacy will be polished anew. The best is yet to come indeed.