Album Review: Betty Buckley – Quintessence (2008)

“You drove me, nearly drove me, out of my head”

It seems a little churlish to criticise a record with the stated aim of reworking the familiar for the randomness of its arrangements but hey ho, that’s how we’re rolling here. Broadway legend Betty Buckley’s 2008 album Quintessence was put together with her longtime musical collaborator Kenny Werner to revisit some of her greatest hits in the spirit of musical experimentation, to discover their quintessence if you will.

The result though, is a set of lethargic interpretations that test the patience, unless you’re that way inclined. Indulgent, over-extended jazz takes on ‘Cry Me A River’ and Into the Woods’ ‘No-One Is Alone’ clearly show a different way of doing these songs but don’t really convince us of the need to do so. Another Sondheim song ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ is far more effective, beautifully moving even, for being altogether simpler in its conception.

West Side Story’s ‘Something’s Coming’ is another example of a backing that feels admirably freeform but ultimately works against Buckley’s vocal, the two constantly tugging against each other. And as delicate as Brenda Russell’s ‘Get Here’ (made famous by Oleta Adams) is, it is almost too ephemeral, the arrangement not quite tethered enough to Buckley’s gossamer-light phrases. A bold experiment but not necessarily one that works for me here.

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