It was a highly improbable pairing -- suave tunesmith Cole Porter and pop icon Paul Simon -- but it worked for powerhouse singer Clint Holmes, who brought the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Cabaret series to a spectacular close Monday night.
Unlike other cabaret singers who use this intimate and refreshing format to focus on the personal side of things, he took the audience on a continuous and often daring musical journey. Barely stopping for a breath, Mr. Holmes was buoyed by what he called these “poets of their particular eras” and smartly honed in on “This Thing Called Love.” Using the premise of the two composers meeting for a drink (Porter a martini and Mr. Simon a beer), he packed about as much as anyone could into 90 minutes of song.
Backed by a tight-knit and versatile group that included pianist and arranger Jeffrey Neiman, bassist Steve Beskrone and drummer Jess Gopen, Mr. Holmes covered a wide-ranging landscape of love -- the “good porterhouse kind,” plus infatuation, commitment and passion detoured into a boozy love affair.
Along the way, he showed how he could draw out a phrase like Sinatra and timelessly caress a song like Bennett. There was a little James Brown and a tinge of Sammy Davis Jr. (in a mash-up of “Have a Good Time” and “It’s Alright With Me”) if you listened closely enough.
The breath control was most apparent in the attention-grabbing “big finish,” which was how most of the songs ended. But he could also take advantage of silence to punctuate the essence of a song, make it more rhythmically acute, as in “Slip Slidin’ Away,” where he took a big swig of water and “slipped” it into the song.
And, oh yes, there was an undeniable dose of Vegas bling.
At heart, this musical chameleon was a jazz singer who could dip into scat, rap, clicking or even a surprise falsetto. Even when straddling two eras and two compositional styles, this “singular” singer could draw from that wellspring of talent and put his own confident stamp on it all. He deftly proved he is a virtuoso who can talk the talk with emotional depth and walk the walk in a technical performance that left the rest of us breathless.
Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.