CD Review: “Gary Brumburgh’s “Full Circle”
Gary Brumburgh was content to be a teacher until he happened to be cast in an amateur production of a Broadway musical; he was immediately smitten and left his former career to spend the next two decades studying acting and singing and appearing in myriad local productions, touring companies, and any musical he could find. His new career blossomed quickly, and he seemed to have found the path he wanted to pursue but then he got to sing jazz in City of Angels, and he was smitten once again. He left the theatre to pursue his new musical love, but the shows and songs he loved stayed close.
Brumburgh released a couple of noteworthy albums using his acting and singing talents to explore standards and pop covers in a jazz setting. He developed a uniquely warm and understated delivery that kept the songs conversational and personal, while imbuing them with irresistible jazz trappings. Which brings us full circle to his new release, Full Circle, on which he explores some of his favorite songs from musicals with impeccable assistance from a group of fine musicians, with fresh and vital arrangements by his musical director and pianist, Jamieson Trotter, beautifully produced by Barbara Brighton. The repertoire includes some well-known material plus some unexpected choices, but familiar or not, each one is heard anew in the singer’s impressive, engaging vocals.
The recording opens fast and furious with a song from the show that introduced him to jazz, “Everybody’s Gotta Be Somewhere” (Cy Coleman, David Zippel, from City of Angels). The band moves at lightning speed and Brumburgh is with them at every turn. It’s as if he found a long-lost Jon Hendricks’ vocalese to some fiery horn solo from ages ago. Trotter’s piano and Danny Janklow’s sax are standouts. Then comes a personal favorite of mine, “Celebration” (Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt, from Celebration) which foregoes Broadway heat for jazz cool. I have often wondered why the show remains relatively unknown and untapped by singers of all genres. His version has a fun, throwback feel as the bandmembers do a call and response to his exhortation to celebrate like a big band from the ’40s or ’50s.
An insinuating take on “Why Should I Wake up” (John Kander, Fred Ebb, from Cabaret) is a revelation. It’s a “lost hit” that has been sitting there in front of us all these years. Trotter has a terrific solo against Christian Euman’s insistent drums. “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, from Oklahoma!) has been done so often by so many that it might seem a thankless choice, but with a sensitive, haunting arrangement underscoring simple, innocent storytelling, this is a version to rival any other. In “Happy Talk” (Rodgers, Hammerstein, from South Pacific) the vocals skip over the fast-moving arrangement like a stone on water, but every word and every thought is clear. “Soon It’s Gonna Rain” (Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt, from The Fantasticks) is the most traditional take on a song in the bunch but I wouldn’t want it any other way. He perfectly combines the wide-eyed innocence and the playful seduction with an infectious musicality perfectly mirrored in the accompaniment.
Of course, there would be some Stephen Sondheim in a project like this, and the singer chooses one of my favorite songs from Company, “Sorry-Grateful.”
Gabe Davis on bass and Jankow on sax come to the fore reinforcing the singer’s emotionally rich exploration of the double-edged sword of relationships. His version of “Carefully Taught” (Rodgers, Hammerstein, from South Pacific) shakes off whatever cobwebs that might have gathered on this warhorse and brings it up to date with a crisp, sharp edge. It may not be intentional, but I couldn’t help feeling that Brumburgh was having a conversation of sorts with the inventive solo trombone of Scott Whitfield, who sounded for all the world like a Charlie Brown/Peanuts adult spouting wordlessly. Another Sondheim is next and it’s particularly fine. Stripped of all the musical comedy trappings and given a Latin patina with an assist from Larry Koonse on guitar, this arrangement reimagines “Love I Hear” (from A Funny Think Happened on the Way to the Forum) in wonderful ways.
Another selection from Celebration, “I’m Glad to See You’ve Got What You Want” is a special treat and underlines what might be an unspoken agenda of the album—discovering and rediscovering songs that would, in a perfect world, have become standards already. The album closes with a simple, touching journey through “Far from the Home I Love” (Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick, from Fiddler on the Roof) that showcases once again the singer’s acting ability which is one of the things that sets this recording apart from others. Ross Garren’s plaintive harmonica adds just the right touch to the beautiful vocals. The album closes with a bonus track—an extended version of “Celebration” that is even more delightful than the shortened version.
It used to be that Broadway albums were a regular thing. Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Mathis, and lots of others would search through current and classic show tunes for material until they had an album’s worth of gems. In 2022, it has become a bit of rarity but perhaps Gary Brumburgh can start a whole new trend with the hugely entertaining, refreshing and infectiously musical Full Circle. That would indeed be cause for celebration.
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”