The Pheasantry in Chelsea’s King’s Road was the setting for a hugely entertaining evening by vocalist Paul Ryan and pianist Jamie Safir. Well-known for his treatment of ballads, standards and show tunes, many from the Great American Songbook, Ryan on this occasion took inspiration from the collaboration between Tony Bennett and Bill Evans in the mid 70s, and who better to accompany him than Safir, whose experience working with Ian Shaw, Barb Jungr and Elaine Delmar reflects the esteem in which this young man is held.
‘….passages of extreme sensitivity – How Long Has This Been Going On a case in point – notes falling like cascades of raindrops, or tears, before an emphatic statement led back into the melody – craftsmanship of the first order’
Starting with When In Rome from the first of the Bennett/Evans albums, they quickly established their own take on the material, going through a broad repertoire of familiar songs – I’m Old Fashioned; Yesterdays; I Should Care; Long Ago & Far Away; Have You Met Miss Jones; Moon River; Close Your Eyes (with a Latin feel), amongst others. Some had a more noticeable Evans influence, as on But Beautiful – Ryan’s warm, relaxed delivery complemented by Safir’s reflective and melodic piano; others not as much, but throughout the pianist paid attention to every detail and nuance from Ryan’s lead, reading the mood of singer and song with accuracy.
It’s well known that Tony Bennett had great respect for jazz pianists – after all he counted Art Tatum as a major influence for phrasing and breathing – and although he isn’t seen as a jazz singer as such, his style has jazz inflection, no doubt through his long-time association with Ralph Sharon. This is the case with Paul Ryan and it shows in his musical imagination, pace and sense of swing.
Safir also demonstrated an ability to take the vocalist into a more jazz-orientated direction, without losing any of its character. And like the purveyor of a standard, he has the gift of introducing a tune with only the merest hint of what’s to follow, teasing the listener. His vamping piano intro on Something’s Gotta Give provided the opportunity for a highly assertive, swinging solo, breaking up the melody and mirrored briefly by Ryan’s almost percussive vocals. His solo on If I Should Lose You, despite its brevity, incorporated quick dextrous runs and a range of pianistic constructs, yet never far from slotting back in time for the vocals to resume.
This forthright approach was matched by passages of extreme sensitivity – How Long Has This Been Going On a case in point – notes falling like cascades of raindrops, or tears, before an emphatic statement led back into the melody – craftsmanship of the first order.
As usual, Ryan delighted the audience with his anecdotes about the songs and their composers, humorous asides and his ability to make the songs his own with inflections and a unique personal touch. It’s my opinion that Ryan shares the view that no vocal performance is complete without a Matt Dennis composition, and sure enough, Angel Eyes drew a heart-wrenching rendition from this skilled interpreter. Hard to follow, but the encore of Some Other Time was a masterpiece of beauty and timing (as is Bill Evans’ version from the Everybody Digs album), showing the empathy between the two performers.
Paul Ryan with Jamie Safir, The Pheasantry, 26 July 2019.