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Jazz at Kitano, New York City, October 6, 2016

  One of the most engaging vocalists around is Ben Cassara.  He has an understated delivery that reflects his gentle personality, but there is always in evidence a strong jazz influence in his vocalizing and choice of material.  
  One of his artistic inspirations is the late singer/pianist/songwriter Bobby Troup. Fittingly he opened his second set at Jazz at Kitano with Troup’s “The Feeling of Jazz.”  He certainly had the right support to enhance his jazz credentials, Scott Robinson on reeds, Billy Test on piano, Iris Ornig on bass and Mark McLean on drums.
  Cassara lent his light baritone to twelve tunes, all of them wonderful, and many winningly hip. Particularly notable were his readings of  “I’m Gonna Go Fishin’,” ”Love Turns Winter to Spring” and “Then Was Then and Now Is Now.”  The first and the last have lyrics by Peggy Lee, and The Four Freshmen memorably recorded the first two. Cassara caught the magic of all three songs.  Among his other selections were “Give Me the Simple Life,” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” “Nobody’s Heart,” “When Lights Are Low,” “I Can Dream Can’t I,” “Underneath the Apple Tree,” “ Lilac Wine” and “Sunday in New York,” a truly tasteful selection.
  Robinson is perhaps the most eclectic musician in jazz who plays a plethora of instruments and is at home in virtually any jazz style.  On this occasion he played tenor sax and flute, adding just the right touches to Cassara’s vocals, and performing several exciting soli. Test, a graduate of the William Paterson University jazz program, plays with a maturity that belies his youth.  Iris Ornig has been active on the New York scene since she arrived from her native Germany in 2003. She leads a weekly jam session at the Kitano on Monday evenings.  McLean is among the busiest drummers on the New York City scene, and has been featured with Catherine Russell and Michael Feinstein among many others.
  Cassara and his colleagues presented a set of thoroughly satisfying music at the intimate setting provided by Jazz at Kitano.

Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz, December 2016 issue

Cafe Noctambulo at Pangea, June 5, 2015

   He seems a most mild-mannered, unassuming gentleman. Yet when Ben Cassara seated himself center stage for a one-off appearance at Cafe Noctambulo recently, he commanded attention. Cassara’s singing has an almost conversational quality at times. He clips some (not all) notes to create an almost pizzicato kind of effect—and when he does sustain a note, there’s very little vibrato evident. Plus he has crisp diction; you hear every lyric in every song. But the adjective “conversational” doesn’t really do Cassara justice, as it implies “small talk.” Cassara, who has a background in stage acting, is more than just chit-chatty. He connects emotionally with a song’s sentiments and actions—and does so without overstatement or fuss. He’s one jazz singer for whom words aren’t just syllables on which to hang notes. They’re the very center of the song. Cassara can certainly sing a scat line—it’s something he did occasionally during the Noctambulo show. But it’s decidedly not his specialty. He seems more at home when he’s communicating an idea through words. He opened with a version of “Singin’ in the Rain” (Arthur Freed, Nacio Herb Brown) that expressed simple, quotidian contentment. His second number, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The 59th Street Bridge Song” (“Feelin’ Groovy”) expressed a similar mood, but the number’s hypnotic arrangement helped Cassara and his band (led by pianist Addison Frei) take things to a higher level of blissed-out indolence.
   The musicians seemed in full sync with Cassara throughout the program. Every time I hear Frei play, I am more impressed with the bountiful musicality he brings to the stage. He was terrific here. The intelligent playing of bassist Iris Ornig and drummer Mark McClean brought further texture to the mix. And, on several selections, talented young saxophonist Adam Rongo sat in with the combo. A kind of adamant quality in Rongo’s playing frequently offset Cassara’s gentle vocals to nice effect.
   Early in the show Cassara performed a group of songs written or co-written by Bobby Troup. Among the best of these was the pairing of a melancholic “Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast” (Troup and Jerome J. Leshay) and a sprightly “Girl Talk” (Troup and Neil Hefti).
   The evening’s high point for me consisted of a pair of back-to-back Rodgers and Hart titles. The first was a sensitive “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” featuring a potent sax solo by Rongo. The other was a version of “Nobody’s Heart (Belongs to Me)” inspired by an André Previn arrangement for Doris Day that appeared on an album Cassara listened to repeatedly as a young man. The number began with piano accompaniment alone. Then the other musicians swept in, and the pace quickened. Frei’s later piano interlude here was splendid. For the most part, Cassara treated Hart’s “I’m just fine with being single” sentiment non-ironically. (He smiled upon noting that he was happy with the moon being “just a moon”). Only occasionally was there a hint that self-sufficiency was in danger of giving way to loneliness.
   Cassara’s set (the second of two that night) closed with a salute to 2015 centenarians Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. The Holiday selection was a rendition of “You’ve Changed” (Bill Carey, Carl Fischer) that would have delighted Stanislavsky with its precisely evoked emotions. Cassara made each iteration of the word “changed” seem like the pang of a wounded heart. His Sinatra tribute number, “The Song Is You” (Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II), started off well, but, unfortunately, Cassara stumbled on the lyrics and consequently lapsed into some of the aforementioned scat-singing.
   He apologized to the audience for this wrong turn, but that really wasn’t necessary (and it called attention to the trip-up). His performance throughout the evening was more than satisfying. I heartily recommend that admirers of vocal jazz who haven’t yet heard Ben Cassara seek him out.

June 15, 2015 By Mark Dundas Wood (BistroAwards.com)