Audrey Silver's passion for musicals began at a young age. In her early years, she strolled the hallowed halls of Broadway, reveled in the enchanting allure of cinematic musicals, and harmonized with her father's curated soundtrack collection. Among these melodic treasures, "Oklahoma!" held a special place in her heart. So much so, that at the tender age of 11, she boldly requested a screening of the film at her birthday bash. Her pals might've found the choice a tad peculiar, but little did they know, this youthful fascination would evolve into an enduring love affair with the Great American Songbook, the bedrock of American popular tunes and jazz standards.
Now, in her latest musical endeavor, "Oklahoma," Silver revisits her early ardor for Rodgers and Hammerstein's masterpiece, spinning ten jazz-infused renditions of the show's cherished numbers. This isn't Silver's first rodeo; it marks her fifth outing as a bandleader, following the likes of "Let Me Know Your Heart" (2019), "Very Early" (2016), "Dream Awhile" (2009), and "Here in My Arms" (2004).
A regular fixture in the vibrant New York City jazz circuit, Silver yearned for an intimate, chamber-like ambiance for this album. To conjure this magic, she selected the trifecta of voice, guitar, and piano as the core ensemble. And to sprinkle some stardust, Silver roped in top-notch New York virtuosos like Bruce Barth on the keys, Peter Bernstein wielding the strings, Adam Kolker serenading with alto flute and bass clarinet, and the rhythm magician, Kahlil Kwame Bell on percussion. For a touch of symphonic grandeur, she recruited the strings in the form of Sarah Zun, Adda Kridler, Kaya Bryla, and Maria Jeffer on three enchanting tracks.
Though Silver boasts an MBA from Columbia University Business School and a résumé featuring marketing gigs with CBS Masterworks (now Sony Classical) and Chesky Records, her heart truly hums with a love for unraveling the history of songs. "Oklahoma!" originally sprouted from Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, "Green Grow the Lilacs." While the narratives of the play and the musical waltz hand in hand, Silver uncovered subtle disparities in their settings. Notably, Hammerstein omitted the presence of Native Americans that loomed large in Riggs' work. Nevertheless, in a touching tribute to these unacknowledged voices, Silver weaves the haunting strains of the Native American flute into the title track, "Oklahoma." This flute, a therapeutic tool in her battle against depression, bookends the song. With the ethereal notes of the flute, Silver's velvety, soul-soothing voice, and an arrangement that nods to Native American rhythms and harmonies, the tune ascends to a spiritual plane. It envelops the listener in the vast, windswept plains of turn-of-the-century Oklahoma, a sonic canvas painted with the whispers of the wind and the evocative hues of a string section.
"Many a New Day" resonates as Laurey's declaration of feigned indifference, disguising her heart's flutter as she catches Curly, her cowboy suitor, in another damsel's orbit. In Silver's hands, this song transforms into a buoyant dance of "pride coupled with strength," where whimsy dances in the lyrics, and the melody swings with infectious delight. "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," an ode to the countryside where "all the sounds of the earth are like music," reveals hidden shadows beneath its sunny exterior through a metronomic guitar thread that hints at impending darkness.
"I Can't Say No" unveils Ado Annie's comic confession of her carefree wandering affections. As Silver aptly puts it, the song delves into the chasm between societal expectations and personal identity. The stop-and-start rhythm in Barth's arrangement mirrors this inner tug-of-war. "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top" has earned its place in the jazz annals through the interpretations of Miles Davis and Blossom Dearie. Silver takes a different path, transforming the song into a galloping journey in five-eight time, propelled by Kahlil Kwame Bell's rhythmic hand percussion.
In the ethereal waltz "Out of My Dreams," Laurey's fantasies of her impending nuptials with Curly take flight. Silver's rendition showcases her velvety, resonant lows, accented by the strings and an airy flute solo by Adam Kolker, capturing the essence of dreams taking flight. "People Will Say We're in Love" stands as a tender, almost bashful declaration of burgeoning romance, a delicate dance of vulnerability between the lead characters, set to the uplifting pulse of a six-eight meter.
"Merriment abounds in 'Kansas City,' a wide-eyed account of a town where 'everything's up to date.' Barth channels the spirit of Erroll Garner in his rollicking piano solo. Wrapping up the collection, "Boys and Girls Like You and Me" unveils a poignant perspective, a song that was left on the cutting room floor before the grand opening of "Oklahoma!" Silver's rendition focuses on the universal threads that bind us all together.
Finally, in a reprise of the titular tune, Silver returns to her jazz roots. Her vision of "Oklahoma!" paints a portrait of distant characters embodying timeless truths, and she delivers these truths with crystal-clear clarity, directness, and a whole lot of heart.
Silver's voice possesses that elusive quality of infectious swing that radiates from her statuesque, graceful persona. With her luminous vocals and innate musicality, Silver breathes new life into the classics from "Oklahoma!" while imprinting them with her unique personality, never straying from the elements that have firmly anchored these songs in the Great American Songbook. She's the torchbearer of a cherished tradition, and she shines like a bright star on the jazz horizon.
Released October 6, 2023.
CD and Digital Download, Also available on Streamings Services.