Tim Draxl

Art Gallery of NSW, August 23

At his best Tim Draxl is so far ahead of whoever is second in Australian cabaret that were it a horse-race the stewards would hold an inquiry. His instincts as a singer shame most pedlars of either jazz or musical theatre. In fact why Draxl has yet to star in a major musical is a mystery.

Amid the ongoing success of his Freeway – The Chet Baker Story bio-cabaret he has assembled a new show, Eclectic. One cannot argue with the title, the material drawn from song-writing teams of assorted nationalities across the last century, with vast diversity of style, mood and intent.Draxl 2 res

Draxl came armed with the formidable team of Michael Tyack (piano) and Dave Ellis (bass), and he initially charmed us with Willkommen (from Cabaret) and (in a neat pairing) Mack the Knife, before sighing his way through a Falling In Love Again that was immeasurably enriched by Ellis’s bowed bass.

He amusingly poured a torrent of French words, phrases and clichés over the melody of La Vie En Rose, and then delivered the coup de grace: Brel’s Ne Me Quitte Pas, perhaps the greatest love song of all. Draxl sang it in English and had the nous to understate it rather turn up the histrionics. Horace Silver’s Come On Home, meanwhile, exemplified his ability to phrase as lightly as breath frosting a mirror, and thereby not weigh down the swing.

Eclecticism is only good if the contrasts don’t run to mediocrity. The lyric of Paula Cole’s Me was, like some photo-realist paintings, clear, hard and lacking subtext, leaving Draxl temporarily (and improbably) sounding like another overwrought pop singer.

How High The Moon and How Deep Is The Ocean? Were perfectly paired and shared exquisite accompaniment and tender singing. But Patti Griffin’s Nobody’s Crying released that intensity like a leak in the room, before Draxl maximised the brilliant comedy of Shakespeare Lied (Elmer Bernstein and Carolyn Leigh) and concluded with a deft reading of Nature Boy, a song I usually loathe. Only Draxl can be this good when it’s not his best show.