Picture it, New York City 1961. Grown people in girdles and fedoras could stumble into any one of dozen of night clubs and hear standards or jazz performed at the highest level. They would sit at their tiny tables; a shaded candle casting them in a flattering glow, sip their Manhattans while wrapped in a haze of cigarette smoke and either bop or swoon to sophisticated stylings. Sitting last night in the Cafe Carlyle, wrapped in Marcel Vertes murals, those halcyon days were brought back to life by William Blake. Resplendent in his black velvet jacket and beatific smile, Mr. Blake brings the best of the past back to life with his flawless show, Echoes of Etta: A Tribute To Etta James.
The audience danced in their seats to the rocking numbers ably backed by the swaying singing synchronicity of The Peaches (Ashley Betton, Shira Elias and Stephany Mora). The Peaches and the audience’s upper bodies were given a break periodically when Mr. Blake turned to the standards made famous by Ms. James. Pianist and co-creator Michael Thomas Murray joined Blake in duets to wonderful effect. Their strong smooth voices complemented each other and created something rich and large. The band ( Oscar Bautista, guitar; Mike Shapiro, drums; Frank Canino, bass) filled the stage and filled the room. Together they created a magnificent sound one rarely stumbles upon today. This fact was confirmed towards the end of the show when the curtained doorway parted. Jammed into the entry of the club were half a dozen people drawn to the sound. Their faces were a mix of joy and absolutely awe.
While the Etta James songbook is an ideal canvas for Mr. Blake’s range, he is not an impersonator but in fact the real thing. With the power of a rocker and the soul of a jazz singer he brings a tender strength to ballads and a growling ferocity to blues. There’s little doubt his talent could take him wherever his heart desires, but for the sake of those yearning to come taste the wine, and to come hear the band, let us hope Mr. Blake never leaves the cabaret.