I probably don’t have to tell you that the husband and wife duo of John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey are the gold standard of cabaret performers, classing up even joints not in need of classing, like the swanky Café Carlyle. More than talent, of which they share an unseemly amount, and their sheer musical exuberance, is their taste, ineffably present both in performance and on the recordings they produce individually and in tandem.
“The Little Things You Do Together,” their new show at the Carlyle (through November 18), takes its title from a knowing Stephen Sondheim song from Company, and couldn’t be a more apt opener for an evening that marks 20 years of marriage and celebrates their latest albums: Molaskey’s tribute to Joni Mitchell, and Pizzarelli’s honoring the 50th anniversary of the landmark album Frank Sinatra recorded with Antonio Carlos Jobim. The recordings are abundant in musical surprises and unexpected takes on familiar (and, in the case of Joni Mitchell, a few not-so-familiar) songs. They’re impeccable.
Much the same can be said of “The Little Things,” which opened on a cold, crappy November evening, traversed a dazzling range of songs, and – here’s the added value, I suppose – glowed with warmth and affection. I’ve heard their work in a multitude of rooms and theaters, and many of the songs in this set were familiar. Yet it was as though they were revisiting them with the fresh wisdom that comes from years of working through a lyric, a melodic phrase and, with a broad smile, sharing a new discovery.
That’s certainly the case with Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ “A Fine Romance,” one of several standards on offer that were given a minor-key twist to reshape the impact (not to mention the pairing of Feinstein and Weinstein, the context of which I won’t give away). Same with Molaskey’s take on Joni Mitchell’s “The Last Time I Saw Richard” and the lesser-known, gorgeous “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines.”
For sheer audacious showing off, little can compare with their coupling of Sondheim’s “Not Getting Married Today” and Jon Hendricks’ “Cloudburst,” two patter songs that would do Gilbert & Sullivan proud if Gilbert & Sullivan had a thing for amphetamines.
But the heart, and the connection, struck deepest with Pizzarelli’s soft, heart-tugging rendition of “Finishing the Hat,” from Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park With George, and the pairing of two more Sondheim songs – “Children Will Listen,” from Into the Woods, and “Children and Art,” from Sunday in the Park. These were jazz as art song, and they were framed with phenomenal virtuosity by Konrad Paszkudzki on piano and Mike Karn on bass.
As an extra dollop, apparently only performed on their opening and closing nights, Pizzarelli performed “I Like Jersey Best,” a novelty number by Joe Cosgriff that included spot-on impersonations of the Boss, Bob Dylan, James Taylor, the Beach Boys and several more who have nothing whatsoever to do with the Garden State. It was cream in the coffee and, to mix metaphors, if not drinks, a tonic for terrible times.