Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Dynamic, Cleverly Erudite Jazz Chanteuse Audrey Bernstein Brings a Killer Band to the Rockwood

What makes jazz singer Audrey Bernstein so individualistic, and so special? For one, she writes her own songs. And you know how some jazz songbirds sing everything the exact same way? Lovey-dovey boudoir overkill, right? Bernstein sings in character: she’s a great storyteller, she mines new and unexpected content from old standards and she’s practically a different singer from number to number. She can go from misty, to disarmingly clear and direct, to coy and enticing, depending on how the story goes. As much as that takes fearsome vocal technique, what’s most impressive is how she puts those chops to work to deliver an emotional wallop…or just a wink, or a chuckle. She’s put together a tremendously good band: Brian Charette taking a rare turn on piano, plus Sean Harkness on guitar, Daniel Glass on drums, and Steve Doyle on bass for a show on July 12 at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood. Cover is $10 plus a $10 drink minimum.

Bernestein’s latest album is Alright, Okay, You Win, streaming at her webpage. One prime example of Bernstein as storyteller is how suspensfully she builds the litany of images in Jobim’s The Waters of March up to an ending that’s just short of ecstatic, bouncing along with some neatly counterinituitive drumming from Geza Carr and Joe Capps’ gently purist guitar. Likewise, her airy, wary approach to Detour Ahead, over Tom Cleary’s similarly judicious, subtly apprehensive piano: that it’s not fullscale Lynchian noir is what draws you in, waiting for something to jump out of the wee-hours shadows. Bernstein and Cleary follow the same trajectory, from overcast to tenderly misty, on Melody Gardot’s Love Is Easy.

Bernstein’s take of Comes Love is both rich with history and a clinic in subtlety: she gives it a matter-of-fact, vintage Molly Picon charm that harks back to the song’s klezmer roots, but without going over the top into vaudeville. Bernstein’s lone original here, Oh the Money, is arguably the album’s best track, a darkly scurrying, bitingly direct blues shuffle.

Bernstein kicks off the album with a jauntily insistent jump-blues take of Too Close for Comfort with scampering trumpet from Ray Vega and piano from Cleary. ‘Deed I Do gets a more dynamically rich interpretation than most oldtimey swing singers give it, Bernstein maxing out her bluesy wiggle-room, alto saxophonist Michael Zsoldos maintaining the vibe. She goes even further, Dinah Washington-style, in that direction on the title track, trumpeter Joey Sommerville pushing a joyously dixieland-inspired horn arrangement.

Bernstein channels raw, undiluted duende on a moody take of You Don’t Know What Love Is, yet with a restraint that makes it all the more poignant, matched by John Rivers’ carefully pulsing bass and Cleary’s lingering, angst-tinged lines. The album’s balmiest number is the steadily swinging You Made Me Love You, lowlit by Sommerville’s sax; and them Bernstein goes unexpectedly chirpy and clever as it winds out. There’s also a bonus track, a nebulously low-key guitar-and-vocal take of I Want a Sunday Kind of Love.

Fun fact: Bernstein’s sense of adventure extends to the kitchen. She’s got a bunch of tempting recipes here.

 

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July 10, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 4/21/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #99:

Douce Gimlet – Destitute

From the frenetic chord-chopping on the intro, into a sad, swinging backbeat, this hauntingly beautiful janglerock song was arguably the New York rockers’ finest moment. During the life of the band, they only released one vinyl single (this wasn’t it), but you can download it for free (click the link above) along with this and the rest of a never-released 2001 studio album at the memorial site for frontman Joe Ben Plummer, tragically killed only three years later.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Call the Oxygen Ponies’ second album Love in a Time of Choler. Recorded during the last months of the Bush regime, it’s an attempt to reconcile the search for some sort of transcendence with the need to overthrow an enemy occupation. It’s also a strong contender for best album of 2009 (stay tuned!). Savagely lyrical, swirling and psychedelic, the obvious comparison is to the great Australian rockers the Church, although sonically and texturally a lot of it is gentler and sometimes more overtly 60s-influenced. Lots of dynamics here, organ and piano floating in and out, backing vocals sometimes adding a gospel choir flavor: it’s a triumph for producer Don Piper. Many of the tracks feature indie rock siren Randi Russo’s velvet vocals adding subtlety and menace. Frontman Paul Megna has always been a formidable lyricist, but here he vaults into the uppermost echelon. The cd’s opening track Love Yr Way begins skeletal, almost Leonard Cohen-esque, before leaping to an ecstatic crescendo at the end:

 

They broke my itchy trigger finger

Scratched an X upon my door

When they hang this message bringer

Blood will rain down through the floor

 

The insistent, midtempo Fevered Cyclones pans to a less-than-idyllic outer-borough hell:

 

We live like clones in our suburban homes

Substituting plastic to get by

You got the best, you want the rest

And you don’t think you’re living a lie

 

The War Is Over, a percussive garage rock stomp, throws another elbow at someone a little too perfect to believe:

 

The war is over, the bastards won

Don’t leave home without your lungs

They’ll shoot your mouth off without a pause

Every body has its flaws

But not you…

The war is over

The heroes lost

Cauterize the permafrost

 

The title track somewhat woozily chronicles two curiously named, possibly fictional, possibly pseudonymous women, Harmony Handgrenade and Melody Marzipan and the nasty repercussions their nonconformity brings them. Yet, it ends on a hopeful note. Grab Yr Gun begins slow and pensive, building to a catchy garage-pop chorus and then goes gospel, and satirically so: “Let your gun be your guide.” A big, scorching rocker, Finger Trigger evokes the loudest stuff on the Church’s Priest = Aura album, desperately flailing for some kind of hope, “Anything to dissipate the grey skies falling.” But it’s too late:

 

You and I and everyone waiting for a brighter sun to shine

We’re wasting time…

I can feel the terrorist inside of me

Choking on the apple of your eye

Hurry up, don’t be late, they’re gonna kill you where you sleep

Shut your mouth, shut your eyes and count the bombs in your heartbeat

 

The most indelibly Bush-era cut is the pensive, hypnotic, yet absolutely defiant, Steve Kilbey-esque Villains:

 

All you mystic gurus

Liars thieves and whores

A plague upon your houses

And all your holy wars

All you self defeatists

I call you all to arms

If we stop medicating

Then who will buy the farm

The fuckers in the White House

Hate your family…

We’ve got a long drive home

 

Defiance reaches a peak on the swinging, macabre ragtime tune Smile, shades of the late, great Douce Gimlet. The cd winds up on a somewhat subdued, sardonic note with A Bottle Marked the Enemy: “They’re gonna come for you, when they comfort you.” Like Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins or the Dead Kennedys’ Frankenchrist, this album perfectly captures a time and place, if one that 5.9 billion people would rather forget. There’s undoubtedly a post-Bush era indie film out there that could match up with this much like Garden State did with the Shins. Maybe more than anything else, this is a cautionary tale, a vivid reminder of where complacency got us the last time around.

May 18, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/21/08

If you’re wondering what’s happening in live music in NYC over the next few days, or on New Years Eve, our constantly updated NYC live music calendar is here. In the meantime our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Sunday’s is #584:

Douce Gimlet – The Well

New York’s best band from the late 90s and early zeros could play virtually any style they wanted: sad country ballads, cheery janglerock, jazzy pop hits, instrumentals, you name it. This is just about their darkest song, a slow, grinding, art-rock dirge with a screaming, anguished, noisy guitar solo by frontman Joe Ben Plummer. During their almost ten-year existence, Douce Gimlet officially released only one vinyl single, so this is nowhere to be found online. In fact, a studio version of this song may not exist, although there are several terrific live takes floating around. However, the cd Douce Gimlet recorded at Jerry Teel’s legendary Fun House Studios, unreleased during the life of the band, is available for free download here.

December 21, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 10/2/08

Yeah, yeah, haven’t put up a live review lately…stay tuned, lots of good stuff happening. Here’s today’s song as we count ’em down all the way to #1:

 

663. The Dog Show – All About Wrong

Like a whole bunch of late 90s/early zeros New York bands, the Dog Show was a spinoff of the late, lamented Douce Gimlet: frontman Jerome O’Brien was Douce Gimlet’s bass player. This is a beautiful, bitter, slowly crescendoing kiss-off ballad, pretty subtle until it hits the point where O’Brien stars railing that if the woman in question ever calls again, he’ll rip the phone off the wall. One of his most potent lyrics. The sonically best version is on the first Dog Show cd, simply titled Demo. While the song isn’t available on the file-sharing sites as far as we can tell, there are plenty of bootleg versions floating around: the best is live at the C-Note in New York in 2001, featuring Kurt Leege (future founder of the brilliant System Noise) doing a rare and absolutely gorgeous cameo on piano.

October 2, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Douce Gimlet and White Hassle at CB’s Gallery, NYC 3/9/00

[editor’s note – here’s another blast from the past. More new stuff tomorrow!]

Part of an “underground film festival,” in reality just a bunch of friends of videographer Jim Spring. Thus, the Douce and WH on the bill together again. A funny short film by Spring about misadventures in the East Village in the late 80s preceded the Douce’s excellent, highly electrifying 40-minute set. Violinist Josh Diamond was AWOL, which put the burden of melodic embellishment on frontman/guitarist Ben Plummer, and he rose to the occasion. They did the old and new intros back to back, Plummer playing tenor sax in tandem with baritone saxist Paula Henderson (of Moisturizer). Later, they did the strangely touching country ballad Little Lovers’ Society and then the high point of the entire night, a chilling, chromatically charged version of their best new song, The Well, Plummer wailing slowly and methodically through two powerful, blackboard-scraping, Keith Levene-esque solos. A bit later they returned to catchy, jazz-inflected pop territory with the propulsive, deliciously chordal Trudy, then eventually the walk-off instrumental where Plummer and Henderson left the stage with their saxes and while playing in tandem, slowly walked all the way to the front exit and then out onto the street while the rhythm section continued onstage.

After two films (one a hideous exercise in video masturbation, featuring a striptease from a sagging, sixtysomething woman, then Plummer’s frequently hilarious, dadaesque college film Juan Frijoles), White Hassle took the stage and wailed through an all-too-brief half-hour set. The punk/folk/country trio (just two guitars and drums) opened with an intro featuring a dj on turntables, then ripped through a tight, driven cover of the Robert Johnson classic Rolling and Tumbling. On their version of the Hollies’ The Air That I Breathe, lead player Matt Oliverio was painfully out of tune until he realized it about halfway through and wisely sat it out until the end of the song. Their big audience hit Life Is Still Sweet, set to a classic soul chord progression, was as warmly uplifting – and warmly received – as it always is. They closed with a wild, hyperkinetic version of their percussion-driven instrumental Futura Trance 2000, frontman Marcellus Hall putting down his guitar at one point to flail away on the empty beer keg, kitchen pots and the frame from a window fan that drummer Dave Varenka had brought along.

[postscript: Douce Gimlet broke up only a year later; their talented frontman would tragically die under very suspicious circumstances later in the decade. White Hassle seem to be on hiatus at this point, while their frontman continues his remarkably excellent solo career; however, they toured Europe last year and another doesn’t seem to be out of the question.]

March 9, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Douce Gimlet Outside Art Fiend Gallery, NYC 11/24/99

[Editor’s note – during our first year, to keep the front page fresh over a long vacation weekend, we’d dip into the archive for a blast from the past like this one. We plan on resurrecting the tradition at some point.]

Seemingly an impromptu outdoor performance on the sidewalk in front of this new Ludlow Street gallery as an enticement to draw people in street to see what’s on display and drink Dixie cups of Guinness. No joke. Bet the band will be around longer than this place will [editor’s note: the band is long gone and so is the gallery]. They did two sets punctuated by the arrival of a police cruiser which by some lucky stroke of fate pulled up while the band was taking a break. The cops sat there for a couple of minutes, then left and didn’t return. Douce Gimlet opened with frontman Joe Ben Plummer and baritone sax player Paula Henderson marching in from the carpark across the street, both playing sax, unamplified, while the rhythm section played on the sidewalk. Then Plummer picked up his guitar and they followed with a bunch of his superbly surreal, actually very moving country ballads, among them Little Lovers’ Society (about dwarves in love), along with the eerie Dark Eyes soundalike mariachi-rock tune The Wounded Burro with excellent violin work by new addition Josh Diamond. They also played a raw but wrenchingly beautiful version of their best song, the haunting, jangly midtempo Destitute and their big, swinging country hit Blue Chippie, on which Plummer tossed off the hook from the intro to Destitute right before another soaring solo from Diamond. Nice way to kick off a long Thanksgiving weekend.

November 25, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Mary Lee Kortes, LJ Murphy, the Dog Show, Douce Gimlet, the Scholars and Steak at the C-Note, NYC 9/8/00

[Editor’s note -during our first year, when we found ourselves in a particularly slow week, we’d put up an article or two from the exhaustive archive we’d inherited a few months earlier from our predecessor e-zine. In those days we didn’t know how easy we had it.]

This was an ass-backwards night. By all rights, the opening act should have headlined, but acoustic acts tend to play here earlier in the evening. The later it gets, the louder it usually is here. Mary Lee’s Corvette frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes held the crowd rapt throughout her 45-minute solo acoustic set: you could have heard a pin drop. Plainly and simply, there is no better singer out there right now. Her favorite vocal device is to leap an octave or more, in a split second, always landing like a cat. Tonight she made it seem effortless, even if her songs, and her vocals, tend to be white-knuckle intense, her steely wail soaring over her subtle, judicious guitar playing. And there’s no better songwriter out there right now either. The songs she played tonight, a mix of concert favorites and new material, are striking in their craftsmanship. The French word for it is travaille, something Kortes would understand and probably agree with.

She opened with a quiet, almost skeletal version of the unreleased Redemption Day, radically different from the blazing riff-rock smash she plays with the band. Still, the anguished intensity of the lyric was undiminished. Later, she did several swinging, country-inflected songs from the band’s most recent, panstylistically brilliant album True Lovers of Adventure. She closed with Lost Art, a ballad from the album, that she sang a-capella, forgetting the words to the last verse for a second and then recovering, to the crowd’s clear delight. I haven’t seen an audience so riveted in a long time.

Another first-class songwriter, LJ Murphy followed. He’s also a band person at heart, although he’s been doing a weekly solo acoustic residency here for over a year now. Residencies can be a dangerous thing for a musician: they’ll wear out your crowd quickly. But there was a vocal contingent here tonight that clearly knows his material well, and he rewarded them by playing mostly requests. He cuts a striking figure with his immaculate black suit, porkpie hat and gravelly baritone. Like Kortes, many of his blues and soul-inflected songs have a stinging lyrical edge, including his minor-key opener, Geneva Conventional, a withering broadside about selling out. His best song of the night was St. James Hotel, a catchy, crescendoing tale of a drunk in a Times Square welfare hotel who hopes he’ll fall asleep “before this bottle’s empty.”

The Dog Show brought a small but enthusiastic crowd. Tonight was lead guitarist Jack Martin’s turn to shine. He plays pretty straightforward lead guitar in Knoxville Girls, but in this project he plays with a slide, and tonight saw him doing his best Mick Taylor impression, all scorching leads and wailing excursions to the uppermost reaches of the fretboard, giving a vintage, Stonesy edge to the band’s lyrical, Costello-esque songs. They wailed through the 6/8 blues Diamonds and Broken Glass (with a long guitar solo), the quietly excoriating Saturday Nights Are for Amateurs, the joyous, Latin-inflected Halcyon Days and a ska number called Back to the Mine which the backup singer (the frontman’s wife) punctuated with percussion on a cooking pan.

Douce Gimlet packed the place. They’re a kitchen-sink band: frontman/guitarist Ben Plummer can literally write anything. Tonight they did a mix of silly instrumentals that could be tv show themes, a handful of aching country ballads (Plummer excels at these) and their best song, a haunting janglerock number called Destitute. This band is a magnet for talent: Martin joined them on slide, Dog Show frontman Jerome O’Brien is the bass player, and they have Moisturizer frontwoman Moist Paula Henderson on baritone sax. She and Plummer began and ended the show with a New Orleans-style march on which he joined her on saxophone, walking up to the stage to begin the set, and then, at the end, the two somehow made way to the door through the throngs of people as the rhythm section kept playing onstage. The crowd roared for more but the club wouldn’t let them do an encore.

The Lower East Side bands that play here are a closeknit scene, many of them sharing members. The Scholars’ drummer had already played a tight set with the Dog Show, and held down a slow, smoldering groove with this electric Neil Young-inflected quartet. They had a guest cellist, who played haunting washes that fit in perfectly with this band’s dark, glimmering, rain-drenched Pacific Northwest gothic vibe. Finally, after their set, the crowd started to trickle out and I wasn’t far behind. Steak, which is Jack Grace’s Denver jam band relocated to New York, have a very Little Feat sound: lots of improvisation (Grace is a terrific guitarist who blends country with jazz licks on his big Gibson hollowbody), and the band swings. But they drove me out of the club when the rhythm guitarist started bellowing “Steve McQueen” over and over again while the band turned it up as loud as they could behind him. But all in all, a rewarding evening for anyone (and there were a few) who’d had the stamina (or alcohol tolerance) to stick around for the whole night.

[postscript: Mary Lee’s Corvette continues to record and tour, with a cameo in the film Happy Hour. LJ Murphy’s solo residency at the C-Note ended later that year – since then he’s been recording and playing with his band. The Dog Show hung it up in 2007, although frontman Jerome O’Brien remains active in music. Douce Gimlet broke up in 2002; their frontman died under suspicious circumstances shortly thereafter, although no one was ever charged in his death. Scholars frontman Whiting Tennis still records and will from time to time play a live show with the Scholars, although in recent years his focus has been mainly on his critically acclaimed, hauntingly intense visual art. While Steak is for all intents and purposes defunct, Jack Grace continues to enjoy a successful career as a country bandleader and booking agent]

September 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment