Lisa B

Center of the Rhyme

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Lisa Bernstein's oddball mix of spoken word poetry (think rap for the uptown swing crowd) and passionate jazzy, high register vocalizing is an acquired taste, to be sure, but it's hard to resist in the sense that you're never sure what she's going to do next. Is it ruminating in words on the life, death and afterlife of Joe Williams (over an outstanding trio swing vibe that segues into her playful, straightforward singing on "Every Day I Have the Blues")? Is it enhancing Bobby Caldwell's "What You Won't Do for Love" with a whole new spoken story of a love deeper than Caldwell could have imagined? Or a crazy poetic essay about appliances and the new millennium with a textured vocal hook that tells us to "Be Electric"? Or another musical poem? The easy swinging, bluesy original "Keeps Me Up All Night" is a snazzy romance that shows what the quirky vocalist can do with normal, engaging material. And "A Place We Knew" reveals a thoughtful singer of solid phrasing and a good vocabulary of modern and traditional jazz. All the chit-chat is cute, clever, and definitely something that sets her apart, even if it grates on occasion. But there's no doubt that any listener who falls for the mainstream cuts on radio will have to brace themselves for the overall strangeness of swings between simple delights and Bernstein's nutty oddities.

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