Playful, Purist Romantic Charm from Sarah King & the Smoke Rings
To what degree are Sunday and Monday the new Friday and Saturday night? To the extent that those first two days are when the spoiled children of the rich and larcenous are too tuckered out – poor things! – to party like it’s 1929, that’s as close as it gets to New York being trust fund kid-free. And if you’re one of the increasing number who’ve taken shelter behind locked doors on the weekend, by the time Monday rolls around, you’re ready to step out. One ongoing Monday night option you might consider, if you’re in an adventurous mood and willing to step into a world where you’d most likely never go otherwise, is charming swing quartet Sarah King & the Smoke Rings‘ weekly 7 PM Monday night residency at the 18th floor bar at the Standard Hotel at 848 Washington St just south of 13th.
The band’s debut album is streaming at Spotify. Most of the songs are standards, done very low-key and purposefully without a lot of gratuitous…anything. Everything counts, even the solos, and King pays a lot of attention to the content of the lyrics when it counts, employing an expressive, sometimes quirky high soprano. The opening track, Tea for Two is one part Lady Day, two parts Blossom Dearie, and the piano matches (and drolly foreshadows) King’s low-key playfulness. The frontwoman adds a touch of sardonic brassiness to the propulsively shuffling Jersey Bounce: intentional or not, its entreaty to party across the Hudson is all too tempting given what’s happened to Manhattan and Brooklyn. Bassist Scott Ritchie’s strolling solo keeps the tongue-in-cheek vibe on the straight and narrow.
I Won’t Dance pairs King’s chirpy vocals against pianist Alex Levin’s stride-influenced lines as Ritchie walks insistently over drummer Ben Cliness’ precisely circling brushwork. Smoke Rings offers an aptly misty nod to the Billie Holiday version of I Cover the Waterfront, matched by King’s most wistfully impressionistic vocals here.
The tiptoeing vocal take of Caravan here looks back less to an Ellington band version than, maybe, the Ventures, considering the tightly wound, nimble tom-tom intro. Some Other Spring gets a purposeful, optimistic interpretation; it has an Ain’t Misbehaving feel to it until Levin takes over with his judiciously considered solo, shifting the song into more enigmatic territory.
King gets unexpectedly blue and then sunny in a flash when the band leaps in halfway through the first verse of Our Love Is Here to Say, Levin adding a no-nonsese, bluesy solo. I Don’t Know Why (I Just Do) follows the same pattern but without the a-cappella intro. The album winds up with a gently swaying take of Up a Lazy River that the band suddenly takes warpspeed. It’s good advertising for the residency. The quartet plays facing the oval bar in the middle of the room, amplified but not too loud. There are a couple of banks of tables and a banquette around the corner from the little stage if you’d rather be less conspicuous, drift back to a New York that time forgot and cast your gaze across the river to pretty much the same thing that Jersey sees when they look back.