Concert review: Andrea Marcovicci at Davenport's

Andrea Marcovicci

Andrea Marcovicci, performing at Davenport's in Chicago. (Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune / July 17, 2014)

The subject of travel must mean a great deal to Andrea Marcovicci, for she sings and speaks of it quite movingly in her show "No Strings."

Launching her annual residency at Davenport's on Wednesday evening, Marcovicci offered a whirlwind tour of the globe through song. Along the way, she shed welcome light on why we travel and how our journeys – in one way or another – are inextricably bound up with what we're really looking for: love.

Perhaps no song in her program summed up this sentiment more knowingly than a new work, Tom Toce's "The Night I Fell in Love with Paris." Loosely modeled on Cole Porter's "I Love Paris" – and marked by a similarly illuminating final line – the piece evoked treasured moments in that most magical of cities. But, of course, as Porter instructed, it's not just Paris that seduces us: It's who's sharing that place and time with us.

Marcovicci sang this nocturne with long lines, a dreamy tone and a heightened sensitivity to the meaning of each word. And there was humor, too, as Toce's lyric gently satirized the mythology of Paris, even as he embraced the city's palpable romance. Marcovicci brought forth these gently comic asides with a smile in her voice, positioning "The Night I Fell in Love with Paris" as a decidedly modern-day response to the City of Light (her spoken introduction helped listeners decode Toce's contemporary references).

Devotees of classic songwriting surely think of Jo Stafford when they hear "You Belong to Me," but Marcovicci's account veered far from Stafford's classic recording. It was in this indelible song, above all, that the distinctiveness of Marcovicci's phrasing was most palpably clear. The way she held back or rushed ahead a rhythm, the way she paused for a moment's reflection pointed to an interpreter who had thought deeply about how to convey the meaning of a song that links love and travel more than most.

Many of the pieces in this evening dealt with destination rather than transit, thus offering idealized portraits of far-flung places. Joined by longtime accompanist Shelly Markham on piano and Chicagoan Jim Cox on bass, Marcovicci turned up the camp in "Rainy Night in Rio," expressed love and longing in "Under Paris Skies" and paid homage to her local fans with "My Kind of Town," warmly sung.

She also took listeners down to Cuba in the unabashedly silly "When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba." The man who wrote that ditty, Herman Hupfeld, may be forgiven, since he also enabled Marcovicci to conjure Casablanca via his immortal "As Time Goes By."

Vocally, Marcovicci sounded more convincing than last year. Yes, her vibrato is too generous on long-held notes, and she has a tendency to slide up to a pitch, rather than hitting it dead-on.

But if you think of Marcovicci as a fine actor who happens to sing her lines, you can better appreciate her art. She's creating a moment, and the music is her means of getting there. It's not difficult to think of cabaret singers with bigger voices (Karen Mason), warmer tones (Amanda McBroom) or gutsier delivery (Julie Wilson).

Marcovicci, however, makes unique contributions as well, most notably in the intelligence of her readings and the charm of her delivery, both of which enrich "No Strings." Notwithstanding Marcovicci's minor vocal flaws, she makes you believe.

And isn't that what all singers strive to do?

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

When: 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Davenport's, 1383 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Admission: $37-$42 plus two-drink minimum; 773-278-1830 or davenportspianobar.com

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