"The Night We Couldn't Say Good Night" Liner Notes by Will Friedwald
The whole point in singing a well-known song is to find something fresh and original to do with it, but sometimes the simplest and most basic idea in the world can be incredibly effective, like, for instance, the leap from an unfamiliar verse to a very familiar chorus - the audience will almost always breathe a collective sigh of relief and recognition. The highlight of Angela Verbrugge’s album is the way she makes this happen on “Love Walked In.” Ms. Verbrugge cleverly realized that here’s a song everybody knows with a verse that practically nobody knows, and that this could be used to her advantage. The narrative of Ira Gershwin’s lyric is perfectly poised to set up this transition: everything sounds all dark and minor as she sings, “Nothing seemed to matter anymore. / Didn't care what I was headed for.” But the most the verse ends with a line that’s highly pregnant with possibilities, “Time was standing still nothing counted till / There came a knock-knock-knocking at the door.”
At that point, she goes from verse to chorus, from dark to light, from dirge-like slow to bouncy-medium fast, from rubato to
a cha-cha beat. The overall feeling isn’t one of merely moving from one part of a song to another, but she makes it sound like she’s actually coming through a door - as if love were literally walking into a room and driving the shadows away. It’s so simple, yet so effective. This is the kind of thing that Ella Fitzgerald would have done - but no, Ella doesn’t actually sing the verse on her classic Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook album. (Likewise, Sarah Vaughan does sing the verse, but neither she nor her arranger hit upon this idea of heightening the contrast between verse and chorus in this fashion to make it more dramatically impactive.) But what makes the idea really work is Angela herself, with a vocal sound that’s bright and optimistic and also full of depth and nuance - welcoming the light but without denying the existence of the darkness. She really makes it sound like she’s strolling right up to the window, pushing the drapes open and turning the lights on.
So give credit to Angela and her top-drawer arranging crew - as well as her cast of expert musicians - for that. And for me at least, it’s not worth bothering with the classic songs, great as they are, unless you can do something new with them - and it doesn’t have to be, contrary to the apparent opinions of some contemporary jazz singers, something tricky and complicated, like putting everything in 7/4 time and completely re-harmonizing everything. I like the way that Angela plays she plays around with the introduction on “All Too Soon,” which is to say, she creates a unique verse all her own by recycling, or, more accurately, pre- cycling part of the bridge.
You’ll probably recognize “Si Tu Pudieras Quererme”by that famous Cuban composer Arturo el Negro, better known as Arthur Schwarz. Yes, it’s really the American standard “You and the Night and the Music”; Howard Dietz’s classic lyric actually does sound better En Español; by singing it in Spanish, makes it into something exotic. The versatility of the musicians, pianist Ray Gallon, bassist / co-producer Cameron Brown and drummer Anthony Pinciotti is particularly outstanding here, in shifting gears from a basic swinging 4/4 jazz feel to a distinct Afro-Cuban influence, no less swinging in its own way. Conversely, with “Night in Tunisia” (heard with the “Interlude” lyric, which most of us remember from Sarah Vaughan) she does just the opposite, taking a tune usually delivered with exotic implications and turning into something more like a love song.
The other non-English language song is “Plus Je T'Embrasse,” which, at one point entered the American hit parade as “Heart of My Heart” )and I confess that I only know the French version thanks to Blossom Dearie). “Speak Softly Love” also has an international angle to it - being written by the great Italian film composer Nino Rota for an American movie (The Godfather) for which the director wanted a strong Italian feel - he got it, and so does Angela. “Cool Baby” (first recorded by Sarah Vaughan on a lesser-known single from 1958) suggests the exhilaration one feels relatively early in a relationship, and trying to dial it down (for appearance’s sake, at least).
Not every song has to be radically re-conceived; “This Could Be the Start of Something Big” is at the same cheerful uptempo where it’s always been (somehow I just can’t hear that one as a dirge). I also approve of the inclusion of both “The Moon Was Yellow” (I associate with Sinatra).
And quite possibly, it tells us something about Angela’s personality that she’s given us four original songs here (which is a respectable number for a first album - any more and she would risk overwhelming us) and they’re all relatively optimistic: “I’m Running Late” (music by pianist Ray Gallon) is a very charming tale of urban panic; “How Did I Know This Was the End?” (music by Vancouver pianist Gerry Teahan) is about love and loss, but in a funny, self-deprecating way rather than like a torch song; “You’re Almost Perfect,” which begins with Angela harmonizing with Cameron’s distinctively moaning arco basslines, and and the movingly bittersweet “The Night We Couldn't Say Good Night,” are somewhere in between, though both are more about the beginning rather than the end of love.
I’d like to say more - but I’m running late. Love is still walking in, and I for one, am glad that the door opened and Angela Verbrugge came through it.
~ Will Friedwald, 2019
Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, VANITY FAIR & PLAYBOY magazine. He reviews current shows for Citiview