Vocalist Lezlie Harrison is both earthy and magisterial. Her sets might include jazz, blues, gospel, R & B, and soul. Those at Smoke feature what she calls “The Great American Soulbook” i.e. Songbook material styled in one of the above genres. “I grew up with Soul Train (a music/dance television program), Aretha, Santana, Miles Davis – that music has shaped my life.” Harrison shows feeling, but inevitably lands on the positive side.
“All of You” (Cole Porter) is rhythmic, effusive. Shoulders bend forward, arms extend, hands express. It’s easy to imagine what Al Hirschfeld would’ve captured. Harrison has a superb relationship with the microphone, she knows when to let it brighten her voice or allow it to fade. Long notes offer visceral reverb. Guitar swings melody. George and Ira Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” finds the band in 4/4 while the artist elongates notes and bends octaves. A skillful guitar solo never loses the song’s vertebrae.
Asking where her audience is from (it’s an international group) prefaces the timely reminder that “We all have a mission to make it a better world.” (The Stylistics) “People Make the World Go Round” has a funky beat. Vocal is declarative, provocative; from her chest and gut. The words the world melodically loops. Keyboard exclaims and demands. Twangy, wah-wah guitar (ah, the 1970s) weaves in and out of the tune. Trash men didn’t get my trash today/Oh, why/Because they want more pay/Buses on strike want a raise in fare/So they can help pollute the air…
In the same vein, “What’s Going On?” (Marvin Gaye) makes it impossible not to rock on one’s sit-bones recalling bell bottoms and flower power. Vocal signifies ardor. Phrasing is right on. Harrison dances (and she can mooove), closes her eyes, and claps during the instrumental. As music swells, the audience begins to call out encouragement.
The languid “Save Your Love for Me” (Buddy Johnson) is a highlight. Completely changing vibe, it emerges honey-cured. …If I were wise, I’d run away…Despite a faint sob, the performer shrugs. Elbows bend, fIngertips tap her chest. Vocal is massaged. Keyboard sounds as if propositioning. Guitar rocks like a bobblehead. Accompaniment swings its hips. The number is cool and lush-hot at the same time. “Bye Bye Blackbird” (Ray Henderson/ Mort Dixon) has evangelical cheer. A good song with which to end the set.
Harrison puts her own subtle stamp on songs, sometimes riding a little before or lingering after the beat, vocally creating a hub-capped-size circle with a phrase, or expansively bending an octave. My single caveat is that instrumentals almost swallowed the evening. Not that musicians weren’t swell, but Lezlie is the reason we’re here, she’s not fronting a band. I’m assured this will be rectified.
Ben Patterson, Anwar Marshall, Lezlie Harrison, Matt Chertoff
While cafes and clubs come and go, Smoke Jazz and Supper Club is In its 18th popular year on the Upper West Side. The intimate room not only boasts top performers and good acoustics, but is one of the few music venues at which one can enjoy a terrific meal. My companion and I began with a crisp arugula salad and marvelous baked clams-fresh shucked bluepoints with panko butter and mango salsa.
We then dined respectively on Cedar Plank Steak – A Creekstone New York Strip with fried onions and truffle fries and Blackened Striped Bass – a pan seared filet with lemon zest, haricot verts, and fingerling potatoes. Steak was tender and perfectly cooked; onions literally evoked moans of pleasure. The bass dish arrived a light, subtle blend of unfishy flavors. Encouraged by the ladies to our right, we sampled the Peanut Butter Pie for dessert. More moans of pleasure.
Other tempting entrees include Lobster Bouillabaisse, Crispy Pork Chop, White Truffle Chicken and Fish Tacos my photographer swears are the best in the city.
Service is pleasant, efficient, and quiet, though it’s always best to arrive earlier and be mostly finished by the time the performer is on.
Photos by Steve Friedman
Matt Chertoff – Guitar, Ben Patterson – Keyboard, Anwar Marshall – Drums
Smoke Jazz and Supper Club
2751 Broadway between 105/106
No music charge when the prix fixe dinner is ordered ($42) Monday through Thursday
Monday – Saturday 5:30- 3AM; Sunday 11AM – 3PM
Leslie Harrison’s website