Jazz musicians have long avoided Stephen Sondheim's songs like the plague -- for reasons that both Jackie Cain and Roy Kral acknowledge (Jackie: they don't lend themselves easily to jazz treatment; Roy: they're just plain difficult). Someday, somebody in jazz will conquer this treasure chest, Broadway's richest since the demise of Tin Pan Alley. But they are tough, for the emotional and musical complexity of Sondheim's material, plus the fact that everything he does is intricately tied to a larger storyline, makes it hard to do much interpreting beyond getting the notes and words right. All Jackie and Roy can do in this live date at New York's Michael's Pub is sing a cross-section of them pretty straight, without really improvising or digging further into the depths of Sondheim's sardonic urban angst. To this, Kral adds his piano -- which is only somewhat less constricted than the vocals -- plus vibraphone, bass and drums. They're wonderful songs, spanning the breadth of the composer's output as of 1982 -- from Saturday Night to Merrily We Roll Along, including some things from Sondheim's legendary oversize trunk -- and Jackie and Roy fans will want to hear them. But beyond picking up a few rarities, there is no special reason for Sondheim's legions to supplement their original cast or revue recordings with these versions.
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AllMusic Review by Richard S. Ginell