Entertainment » Music

Alphabet City Cycle

by Kevin Scott Hall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday May 27, 2009
Alphabet City Cycle

Georgia Stitt and Marcy Heisler have made themselves known around New York cabaret rooms for quite some time now, the first as a pianist, singer and composer, and the latter as, most famously, the lyricist to composer Zina Goldrich.

The two friends have put together a five-song, twenty-minute recording called Alphabet City Cycle: A Song Cycle for Soprano, Violin, and Piano.

According to the liner notes, Stitt pored through many of Heisler's old poems and ended up setting these five to music, a mini-opera of lament over lost love.

Stitt herself describes the songs as "some kind of hybrid between musical theatre and art song," and she is correct with that assessment.

While the whole casts a certain spell - one can imagine sitting in a windowsill with a cigarette, overlooking Tompkins Square Park, recalling an ex while this music wafts through the window from the kitchen - the parts are at times uneven.

The music and Stitt's playing (on all but one track) are reminiscent of Sondheim, the musical lines taking unexpected turns and the melodies interesting, if not always hook-laden and catchy.
The most memorable is the first track, "The Wanting of You," an extended meditation on seeing one's lover in everyday activities. It offers enough musical and lyrical repetition to stay in the mind long after the CD player has been turned off.

Heisler's lyrics - perhaps typical of an artist's early efforts - display both brilliance and sappiness. To illustrate, from "Sunday Light": "The language of lovers is never lost/Rather spoken a thousand times/In a thousand ways, breathing as we do/In no way a prisoner of mistakes/Or memory."

And from "Almost Everything I Need": "I'll just close my eyes/Pretending I'm at camp/It's going to be great/It's going to be fun/With a prayer for good luck/And a bucket of Windex/This room will be perfect for one."

Least successful is "Blanket in July," a list song about a woman berating the new girlfriend with a string of metaphors that demonstrate how wrong she is for her ex. Too bitter, and perhaps best left to the diary.

The team chose to bring their compositions to light through the soprano Kate Baldwin, violinist Victoria Paterson and pianist Stitt (with Grant Wenaus on "Blanket in July").

Baldwin's voice is lovely and clear, although her bright sound is a bit at odds with the lyrical content. One wonders what a world-weary voice like Bonnie Tyler or Curtis Stigers could do with this material.

Paterson's violin was an inspired choice for this context, giving the whole effort a touch of classical. The violin's musical line is gorgeous and also interesting, as though it is the other character in the pieces.

The recording is well-produced, showcasing intriguing musical choices and an experiment in collaboration between two known artists whose other work is quite different.

For that reason, this is worth picking up for fans of either Stitt or Heisler. For the rest, it is a lazy summer afternoon mood piece rather than pop with a particular market in mind. Perhaps that is exactly what was intended.

Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).

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