COMPOSER Harold Arlen had so many hits, he really must have conjured black magic during his successful composing career, crowned by the popular Over the Rainbow.
That tune alone, with lyrics by Yip Harburg, was the showpiece of 1939's The Wizard of Oz movie and became Judy Garland's signature song.
It maintains its charm 75 years later and was a showpiece Sunday for Winnipeg singer Colleen Furlan as the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra celebrated Arlen's career in the closing concerts of its 2013-14 season.
Furlan, a finalist on the CBC reality-TV series Over the Rainbow in 2012, has a certain familiarity with the song and really came into her own singing it Sunday afternoon in the first of two WJO concerts.
It was one of a half-dozen songs she sang alone or in duet with Everett Fristensky, another local singer, in front of a big band clearly prepared to give Arlen's compositions their due with tight ensemble playing and often bluesy but always great soloing.
Furlan's strong voice was terrific on songs such as Get Happy and Come Rain or Come Shine, but it lacked a sense of gravity needed for Stormy Weather. Later, on Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe, she nailed the emotional core about love overcoming misery in life.
Fristensky, appropriately dressed in a white dinner jacket, opened his singing with It's Only a Paper Moon, another Arlen tune that has entered the Great American Songbook, and which benefited Sunday by solos from bassist Gilles Fournier and Icelandic guitarist Bjrn Thoroddsen.
Fristensky cited the great singer Frank Sinatra as he introduced One For My Baby, a tune Sinatra went to many times over the years and which Fristensky captured beautifully. He gave a powerful performance of I've Got the World On a String.
The two singers sang together on a pair of songs with disparate messages. On Let's Fall in Love, they shared the joy of romance, and on the concert encore, Blues in the Night, they told of the dangers of a sweet-talkin' woman.
The band paid tribute in several instrumentals to the brilliance that made Arlen's compositions so engaging and so memorable.
Alto saxophonist Neil Watson and trumpeter Richard Gillis, WJO artistic director, led the band through Merry Old Land of Oz with brilliant soloing. If I Only Had a Brain, an ensemble piece arranged by Jeff Presslaff, rocked the house.
And what would an Arlen tribute be without That Old Black Magic, performed Sunday as a tight, virtuosic ensemble piece by the band.