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.

 

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

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

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: Marcellus Hall & the Headliners at Lakeside, NYC 12/8/07

Hall writes devastatingly funny, lyrically driven, catchy Americana rock songs and tonight he was at the top of his game. It was a little incongruous seeing him onstage with a bass player, considering how long his once-and-future band White Hassle went without one (they beat the White Stripes to the bassless rock thing by a couple of years but never got any credit for it). White Hassle was the late, great Joe Ben Plummer’s favorite band, and for good reason: Hall wrote some very good, very catchy, stream-of-consciousness funny songs with them. And also with Railroad Jerk, his band before that. But in the last few months he’s taken it to the next level. White Hassle were great because everything they did sounded completely off-the-cuff, completely uncontrived. Yet as good as they were, nobody writes devilishly funny, sardonic lyrical putdowns as well as Hall’s been doing with this band lately.

“This is a song from our myspace page,” he told the crowd with just enough of a smirk to make it obvious that he was being ironic. Just a couple of years ago he would have been telling the crowd that the track was from a new cd, which he’d have for sale, and maybe if you were really lucky he’d have a couple of copies on vinyl which some lucky schmuck in line in front of you would snatch up before you could get to them. His music, if not his lyrics, is retro, and a lot of his lyrical swipes are directed at ppl txtn n emailn (is that the right way to spell it? Is there a right way?). While Hall’s songs come at you from all kinds of different angles, never straight over the top, in the end it’s very honest stuff. He clearly doesn’t like the deception that is part and parcel of the myspace/textmessage esthetic, so his bullshit detector is set to stun, and who can blame him, after hearing what he’s got to say. Back Where I Started, one of the early songs in the set might be the best song he’s ever written, an ridiculously catchy, upbeat number that’s ostensibly about a breakup, but there’s all kinds of other levels going on and that’s what makes it so fun, just as much as the killer acoustic guitar intro and catchy chorus (Hall’s also taken his guitar chops to the next level).

The song from the myspace page, Gone, has a similar feel, and an unexpected joke at the end about nuts that had people practically rolling in the aisle. He did another new song, a surprisingly moving 6/8 number with an Everly Brothers feel: “You only see the neon/You don’t see the night,” he admonished. Dylan is obviously another influence, but it’s the young, funny stoner Dylan, that Hall’s funky, talking blues with the recurrent chorus, “It was the vodka talking and the gin listening,” most closely evoked.

Accompanied by a keyboard player who added melodic electric piano on about half the songs, they closed with a White Hassle classic, the title track to their ep Life Is Still Sweet. Having bass to push it along gave it a different feel with a lot of extra bounce, but it still hit the spot. Hall finally went down and did the splits during that one – he knows how to work a crowd, as anyone who ever saw White Hassle live will tell you. Too bad there aren’t more performers out there who put on a show as fun as the one this guy played tonight. Marcellus Hall plays Happy Ending Bar in Chinatown (Rivington just off Forsyth) on Dec 12 at 8 PM, presumably solo, as part of a prose reading series which has occasional music.

December 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 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