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Bacharach Helps Orchestra Sparkle

Mon., April 7, 1997

Burt Bacharach, Spokane Symphony SuperPops Spokane Opera House, Saturday night

We knew that Burt Bacharach would perform hit song after hit song. After all, this is a songwriter whose hits number in the scores, not to mention a Hollywood composer whose (film) scores number in the scores.

But there were a number of surprises Saturday night, the best of which was the brilliant use Bacharach made of the Spokane Symphony in the arrangements. Some Symphony Pops guest artists merely use the orchestra as a little meringue topping on the sound provided by their own combo. Bacharach brought his own combo, too, but his arrangements incorporated all of the elements - combo, orchestra, vocals, his own piano - into a beautifully integrated whole.

That’s the advantage of having a brilliant arranger-producer as a guest artist. An orchestra has always been a key part of Bacharach’s pop, and nobody knows better how to use one. In addition, Bacharach has actually developed some new pieces strictly for pops orchestras, including an exceptional instrumental piece titled “New York Lady,” which I believe he said was composed and arranged especially for the Houston Symphony. To me, this was the high point of the show.

One other surprise: Bacharach has an eccentric, to say the least, performing style. He’s not a showman, by any stretch of the imagination, but his body language is fascinating to watch. He writhes, he grimaces, he holds one hand in the air in ecstasy. He leans his forehead down practically onto the piano keys in bliss. There were times where I thought he was going to go into a complete Joe Cocker. This may not be the most conventional way for a tuxedoed bandleader to act, but I found it to be a heartfelt and genuine expression of the deep feeling he has for the music.

It took a few songs for Bacharach to warm up to the crowd, but when he did, he became quite voluble, telling a long and funny story about the song “Heart Light.” It seems that Bacharach named one of his racehorses after the song, and the horse went on to become a national champion largely on the basis of having Neil Diamond come to the track before every race and sing to the horse. The show did not wallow in nostalgia, yet inevitably the long medleys of Bacharach hits touched the emotions. It’s impossible to deny the style and originality in such melodies as “What the World Needs Now,” “This Girl’s In Love With You,” “Promises Promises,” “The Look of Love,” “Walk on By,” “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again,” “Wives and Lovers,” “Close To You,” “Wives and Lovers” and “What’s New, Pussycat?”

These tunes were presented in arrangements that, for the most part, used the orchestra to carry the vocal line. However, a trio of female singers often added some choral bits to the tunes. Later, two of these singers, Lisa Taylor and Donna Taylor, stepped up front and did full vocal versions of several songs, including “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “Arthur’s Theme.”

Bacharach himself croaked out a few songs, but his voice sounded even drier and more strained than usual (“It’s even drier here than in Aspen,” he commented). Yet his version of “Alfie” was effective and haunting.

It’s a shame that both Mel Torme and Pete Fountain had to cancel out of this particular SuperPops date because of illness. With Bacharach, however, it was hard to stay disappointed for long. , DataTimes

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