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Streisand's Nostalgic Return to the Village Yields a Superb Vocal Performance
Given her inarguably legendary status and all the celebrities in attendance, Barbra Streisand can never really go home again, but that didn't stop me from being thoroughly entranced by this burnished record of her intimate performance at the Village Vanguard from last September. In the famous Greenwich Village jazz club that actually turned her down for a singing job nearly a half-century prior, she appears more relaxed than ever with her mellifluous voice intact. Directed quite unobtrusively by Scott Lochmus, the one-night event was timed with the release of her last album, her 63rd, "Love Is the Answer", a stunning studio-polished return to form filled with jazz standards and show ballads.
Backed only by a sharp yet accommodating four-piece band, the 67-year-old songstress still displays the melisma and dramatic conviction in a singular voice that remains barely diminished after all these years. Granted her high notes are gone, but her phrasing and interpretative skills remain unparalleled in her leisurely paced ninety-minute set. Selections from "Love Is the Answer" dominate the program, but freed from the disc's immaculate production values, Streisand's vocals feel much more alive and dynamic in the capture of her live performance here. She vividly expresses wistful regret in "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and answers the gentle wake-up call of the Sinatra chestnut, "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning".
The gentle bossa nova sway to "Gentle Rain" remains intoxicating, while the signature cleverness of Betty Comden and Adolph Green informs the heartfelt words of Jules Styne's yearning "Make Someone Happy". The lyricists' handiwork is also present in a lovely version of Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time" from "On the Town", a song Streisand admits to forgetting to sing at the end of her set. The singer's good friends, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, also in the audience, provide the sad-eyed break-up lyrics to Johnny Mandel's "Where Do You Start?" which the singer handles with dramatic aplomb. Streisand seamlessly adds a trio of Richard Rodgers classics from her recording youth to the program - the plaintive "Nobody's Heart" (which she apparently sang to Marlon Brando over the phone), the familiar "My Funny Valentine", and the love-besotted "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered".
Same as in her album, two of her more impressive performances are distinctly Gallic in flavor with melodramatic flourishes - the bittersweet opener, Artie Butler's "Here's to Life" and Jacques Brel's masochistic "Ne me quitte pas" which was later popularly translated by Rod McKuen into "If You Go Away". Unsurprisingly, Streisand inserts two of her signature songs, the self-penned "Evergreen" in tribute to Bill Clinton who is in the audience, and "The Way We Were", which causes Sarah Jessica Parker to wipe away a tear. A heavy sense of nostalgia permeates the program with a series of introductions provided by old colleagues, including Lorraine Gordon, who inherited the Village Vanguard after her husband died in 1989. She is the centerpiece of a featurette spotlighting the club's history. The quality of the high-definition video on the Blu-Ray edition is outstanding with Roger Grange's camera-work quite flattering to Streisand.
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