The Face of My Love
The most important point that Ken Greves brings out in his interpretation of “It Was Written In The Stars” is that here is one of the major song texts to take us through the inevitable stages of a relationship. In fact, hearing it here, in this context, it makes me realize that “It Was Written In The Stars” (from the 1948 film Casbah), philosophically at least, sounds like it could have come from the score to Kismet. In American pop culture, the idea of fate is a very Middle Eastern thing: Casbah was set in Algiersand Kismet took place in Baghdad. And in fact there is something of a connection between the two works: at around the time Harold Arlen was composing Casbah, he helped out the composers Robert Wright and George Forrest. They were then considering the potential of a musical based on the old play Kismet, and it was Arlen who gave them the idea to use the work of the late Russian composer Alexander Borodin as a starting point.
Which goes to shows here that the concept of kismet works in putting together a classic musical as well as in a relationship, as Ken Greves deftly illustrates over the course of 15 songs in his first album The Face of My Love. All these points went through my mind, but the main thought I kept flashing back to was, “Yeah, he’s like totally right about that!” – “he” in this case being a speaker-composite of both Ken Greves and lyricist Leo Robin (the two become one and the same). When you’re deeply in love on that profound a level, you really do feel as if your relationship was pre-ordained by the stars, the fates, the Gods, or whatever. You don’t question the idea that, “what was written in the stars must be,” or, as they say in Kismet, “So it is written, so it shall be done.”
Ken takes us through all the stages implicit in the process: of being alone, falling in and then out of love, and, at the end, being alone again – waiting for the cycle to start anew. The Face of My Love begins with Billy Strayhorn’s “Day Dream” (the first of three samples of Strayhorniana here) a song about being hopeful about finding love, and from there proceeds, logically, into “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” a song about meeting someone. Greves brings out the meaning of the texts in thoughtful and original ways: in “Day Dream,” near the end of the second chorus, he deliberately skips a line or so of the lyric, which underscores the unfocused, day dreamy feeling of John Latouche’s words; in “Nightingale,” also near the end of the song, he spaces out the notes on “like an echo far away” to accentuate the distant, echo-y feeling.
“Where Have You Been” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream” (as well as “Dearly Beloved”) are all songs of romantic discovery: when you find Mr. Right (or even “Mr. Right Now,” as they say in Lifetime TV movies) your first question is invariably “Where Have You Been?” (The former is that great rarity, a Cole Porter song that’s rarely done.) “Everything I Have Is Yours?” and the magical pairing of “Witchcraft” and “That Old Black Magic” are songs of high romantic rapture, and, in both cases, Greves awakens the inner song nerd in all of us by throwing in verses that most of us will only know (if at all) from the original sheet music. I surely can’t think of many examples of anybody actually singing the verses to “Everything” and “Witchcraft”; in the case of the latter, especially, it’s a real mitzvah to hear this imaginative intro - the brilliant Carolyn Leigh was particularly adept at versecraft. The magic medley is framed by a particularly compelling piano figure from accompanist Wells Hanley; by hammering away lightly but insistently on a single note, he creates an enchanted sound suggestive of the elves in Santa’s workshop.
The kismet-driven “It Was Written In The Stars,” “Alone Together” (done mostly just with bassist Tom Hubbard) and “My Flame Burns Blue” (done as a voice-and-piano duet with Mr. Hanley) show the relationship getting more serious. “Flame” is Elvis Costello’s take on Strayhorn’s “Blood Count”; I know of at least two or three previous sets of lyrics to this composition that served as the grand finale to the composer’s short life, but Mr. Costello’s is surely the one that will become definitive.
The lightly swinging “Day In, Day Out” provides the last moment of romantic rapture before things start to turn sour. “Chelsea Bridge” is decidedly melancholy; if there ever was anyone who could describe the bittersweet rites of passage in a relationship, even in those many instances when he was just writing music and not lyrics, it was Strayhorn. By the time we get to “There’s a Lull in my Life” (with another rare verse, this one practically not sung since Alice Faye) things have definitely taken a downturn (as attractive as Ken’s interpretation is). He’s one of the few singers I’ve heard personalize a tune by shortening it – the first time he reaches the coda, he caps it rather than extending it. Then, when he arrives at that point again at the conclusion of the second chorus, he sings the full ending: “this ache in my heart, the call of my arms, the lull in my life.”
“Don't Look Back” is a song of finito and completo if ever there was one; the door is closing and the bridge is burning behind you, and it would be foolish to try and stop it. “Someone To Light Up My Life” – a comparatively lesser-heard song by Antonio Carlos Jobim (English text by Gene Lees) - is about once again beginning the search for someone new. I never noticed before that it’s a song about endings as well as beginnings, goodbye as well as hello.
Ken then conveys two distinct but inter-related messages in “By Myself”: that he doesn’t mind being alone, but, in a compelling coda at the very end, he reprises a fragment of “Day Dream,” as if to show that hope springs eternal and that he’s optimistic for the future. Even though the affair is over, Ken chooses not to end on a downer note. Just as the album ends with a hopeful look towards the next romance, I’m looking forward to whatever’s coming next from Ken Greves.
-Will Friedwald, NYC 10/05/2009