Vamping at the Café Central

All That Jazz: Dec. 2009/Jan. 2010

Columns | Matthias Wurz | December 2009 / January 2010

"Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker." The lower sensual range of Dutch-born actress and mezzo-soprano Susan Rigvava-Dumas’ powerful voice floated across the neo-Renaissance Café Central. And almost whispering to the delicate accompaniment of the rhythm section of the Vienna-based mini-big-band Project Two – "wherever you’re going I’m going your way."

It’s Sunday, Oct. 4, about 8.30 pm, and John Mercer’s 1961 award-winning hit "Moon River," in a sensitive arrangement by band leader and trombonist Karl Heinz Czadek, brings out the best in the seasoned jazz musicians. Originally set to music by Henri Mancini for Audrey Hepburn in the film version of Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, ‘Moon River’ was the undeniable climax of the band’s eclectic performance that day – the last of the series "Jazz Live im Café Central."

Suddenly, with the key modulating up a step, the pace too changes and the character of ‘Moon River’ brightens, and Rigvava-Dumas reaches out for the high-power range. And while the audience is enjoying a cup of Wiener Mélange and a cake, or a lavish early dinner at one of Vienna’s oldest literary cafés, the nine instrumentalists are seated inside a grove of marble pillars under a cupola in the arched ceiling in the center of the room.

Rigvava-Dumas is well-known as a musical star despite her classical training as a singer – especially in the role of Mrs. Danvers in the recent production of Rebecca at Vienna’s Raimund Theater. And as her collaboration with Project Two shows, she clearly feels at home with jazz. She matches the band musically, sound blending as easily as their all-black performance wear: Dressed in dark trousers, a sleeveless jacket and a black tie cheekily around the neck, she plays to the packed audience with the easy charm of long experience on the stage.

Given the great success of tonight’s performance, it came as a surprise to learn that the short cycle of four Sunday concerts would not be continued.

The problem, if there is one, is certainly not the place. While the Café Central is perhaps an unexpected venue for jazz, small ensembles work well in the setting; the unusual architecture of the arched cupola ceiling allows the live music to fill the space without being shrill, allowing music and quiet conversation to exist undisturbed side by side. The music too feels somehow at home: the pieces from the Great American Song Book of jazz standards – in exquisite arrangements by band leader Karl Heinz Czadek – complement the elegant ambiance of the café.

As for tonight, the enthusiastic audience demanded encore after encore, and the evening concluded with an arrangement of Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" (1984), one of the pop star’s signature songs, famously produced by jazz legend Quincy Jones.

"We have very little in common with pop music," Czadek told the audience, many of whom agreed with silent nods of the head. "This is a different musical world." But the purely instrumental arrangement was full of jazzy esprit, a fast-paced and powerful finish.

For those who missed the concerts in September, the same ensemble performs regularly at Jazzland, with a pre-Christmas concert on Dec 22. Check for other dates.

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