“I have seen Sue Matsuki perform many times over the past eleven years. As I've said before, and will doubtless have occasion to say again, one of the most gratifying aspects—no, make that greatest pleasures—of covering cabaret over an extended period of time is seeing artists develop and grow, so it is with great pleasure that I can report that Matsuki's new show not only represents her best work to date, it is also one of the finest shows I've seen anyone deliver this year.
Working for the first time with director Eric Michael Gillett, and for the umpteenth time with her musical director for the past thirteen years, Gregory Toroian, Matsuki has put together a very intelligent, tight show, with no blah-blah-blah patter and a nice mixture of classics and new discoveries. The most striking element of the evening is the remarkable quality of her interpretations0each based on a chosen point of view and delivered with commitment and a singularity of purpose, devoid of extraneous frills or gestures. Such clarity and consistency are possible only when the musical arrangements share and support the singer's artistic vision, so kudos to Toroian, who devised the arrangements in collaboration with Matsuki. This is his personal best, too—at least of the work I've seen—and his piano accompaniment is positively poetic. Sharing accompanist honors (and praiseworthiness) are Steve Millhouse on bass and Ron Tierno on percussion.
Matsuki opens the show with Mercer and Arlen's "Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive," which is exactly what she does—from early in the verse when she delivers the line "The topic will be sin" with a twinkle and a smile, to her nifty handling of the song's ending. Among the other standards are Cahn & Van Heusen's "The Tender Trap," with a sassy vocal arrangement and sexy instrumental accompaniment, and "I Just Found Out About Love" (Jimmy McHugh, Harold Adamson), presented as an unashamed celebration of sex. Has "Misty" (Errol Garner, Johnny Burke) ever had a more thoughtful or more moving reading? I doubt it.
In the new discoveries category are two wonderful songs by Zoë Lewis: the appealing "The Prince of Love," about a voodoo man in New Orleans, and the steamy, impressionistic, quasi-surrealistic and altogether extraordinary "Aware," here given an equally extraordinary performance. Also new, or at least rare: "A Moment in Time" (music by Matsuki and Toroian, lyric by Dan and Michele Page), a remembrance rich with romantic imagery; "Jackie" (Stefano Carrara), a bossa nova about a blues singer whose own experience with love is what blues songs are all about; and the very triste "Inside a Silent Tear" (Blossom Dearie, Mahriah Blackwolf)—all strong songs, and all given authoritative interpretations.
There are times when I absolutely love what I do. This is one of them.”
Roy Sander, Backstage