New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Emilie Lesbros

A Spare, Edgy, Incisive Jazz Poetry Album From Brilliant Violinist Sarah Bernstein

Sarah Bernstein has to be the most fearlessly protean violinist in any style of music. Just when you think you have her sussed, she completely flips the script. Beyond her brilliance as an improviser, she’s a master of eerie microtonal music. As a result, she’s constantly in demand, most recently this past weekend at Barbes as part of thereminist Pamelia Stickney’s hypnotically haunting quartet.

But Bernstein’s best music is her own. Her previous release, Propolis was a live benefit album for Planned Parenthood with an alternately stormy and squirrelly improvisational quartet including Alexis Marcelo on keys, Stuart Popejoy on bass and Nick Podgursky on drums. Her latest release, Crazy Lights Shining – streaming at Bandcamp – is with her Unearthish duo featuring percussionist Satoshi Takeishi, a return to the acerbic jazz poetry she was exploring a few years ago. Patti Smith’s adventures in ambient music are a good comparison; Jane LeCroy’s Ohmslice project with Bradford Reed on electronics is another. Bernstein’s playing the album release show on a great triplebill on May 30 at around 10 PM at Wonders of Nature; cover is $10. Similarly edgy, eclectic loopmusic violinist Laura Ortman opens solo at 8, followed by fearlessly relevant no wave-ish songwriter Emilie Lesbros.

“Come in to feel free, no fear,” Bernstein’s echoey, disemodied voice beckons as the album’s initial soundscape, For Plants gets underway. Takeishi’s playfully twinkling bells mingle with Bernstein’s shimmery ambience and resonant, emphatic vocalese.

Bernstein has never sung as storngly as she does here, particularly in the delicately dancing, sardonic Safe:

No one can find you
No one can eat you
You’re not alive
You are safe

Is that a balafon that Takeishi’s using for that rippling, plinking tone, or is that  Bernstein’s violin through a patch?

She subtly caches her microtones in the deceptively catchy, balletesque leaps and bound of Map or Meaningless Map:

…A calm enthusiasm should suffice
The fuzziness of an empty sleep
The rush to extrovert, sure thing!
Expressing can feel like living…

Bernstein’s uneasily echoey pizzicato blends with Takeishi’s rattles in the album’s title track, which could be the metaphorically-charged account of a suicide…or just an escape narrative. In the instrumental version of The Place, the two musicians build from a spare, slowly shifting mood piece to a slowly marching crescendo. A bit later in the vocal version, Bernstein sings rather than speaks: “There are war crimes and recipes and kisses remaining,” she muses.

The acerbically brief Drastic Times starts out as a snippy cut-and-paste piece:

Drastic times require tragic measures?
We live under a system (drastic)
…Like anyplace where thought control is under physical control
..Maybe that will change when the rest has exploded
Drastic time
Maybe that is something to look forward to!

Little Drops follows an allusively twisted narrative into chaos, in the same vein as Meaghan Burke’s most assaultive work. The album’s final cut is the kinetic Four Equals Two, its catchiest and seemingly most composed number, complete with a nifty little drum solo. Count this among the most intriguingly relevant albums of 2018.

Smart, Pensively Relevant, Cross-Pollinated Tunesmithing From Emilie Lesbros’ Alter Ego

French singer/multi-instrumentalist Emilie Lesbros inhabits a unique and compelling space at the intersection of jazz, indie classical and the avant garde. Take a listen to her woundedly elegant, eerily hypnotic reinvention of the old French protest song La Semaine Sanglante with the trio Single Room, with cellist Julia Kent and electric harpist Rafaelle Rinaudo. Lesbros also has an alter ego, Miss Elie Sorbsel, who writes bitingly contemplative songs that veer closer to rock, blues and soul music. She’ll be playing those songs from her new album Miss Elie Sorbsel Sings Emilie Lesbros (streaming at Bandcamp) on a pretty amazing triplebill this Thursday, March 12 at 9 PM at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 236 E 3rd St. with the guy who’s arguably the best and most relevant English-language lyricist on the planet, the Coup’s Boots Riley, plus vivid, improvisationally-inclined violinist/singer Sarah Bernstein. Cover is $10.

Lesbros plays guitar and sings in both English and French on the new album. Both the promise and danger of revolution are recurrent themes. The gloomy, noir blues-tinged opening track, Nothing At All has a slow, uneasy sway and a couple of long, achingly soaring vocal crescendos. “I am a dangerous woman, I can take my gun anywhere, anytime,” Lesbros (or is it Sorbsel? They sound a lot alike) sings on Les Marionnettistes, an edgy downtown soul-funk 99-percenter anthem driven by JJ Jungle’s terse bass and Hassan Hurd’s drums.

Cross the Bridge builds from a skeletal intro to a more insistent groove that’s part growly 80s postpunk and part guardedly optimistic soul ballad, with an aptly wary bass solo out. From there they segue into an intense, amped-up version of the Single Room song Don’t Lock Me Out, a careening, crescendoing power-to-the-people anthem. Speak Up mashes up hints of flamenco and early lo-fi PJ Harvey underneath Lesbros’ insistent, firebrand lyricism. The album winds up with High Higher, contrasting Lesbros’ flights to the upper registers against hypnotically stately bass chords. It’s an individualistic, relentlessly relevant bunch of songs, one of the best to come over the transom here this year.