Like a floating crap game or the back alley dive Pompie’s Place purports to be, the club makes its third appearance in the eminently comfortable back room at Pangea. As introduced by its dapper, unapologetic host, the joint welcomes con men, bootleggers, big house veterans, suckers, molls and dames, the low with mazuma and the high with moxie. It’s all Blues all the time here. Fasten your seat belts and raise a glass – hooch is imported from Atlantic City.
Proud and sultry, Lezlie Harrison opens with “St. Louis Blues” (W.C. Handy). Potent as bottom of the barrel moonshine, the song goes down smooth, but kicks. Lyrics are squeezed from the bottom of the ‘tube.’ “Kansas City” …hee ah cum… (Jerry Lieber/ Mike Stoller) is a boogie woogie with swinging sax. Harrison’s voice shimmies, then careens off the walls. At one point, the musicians play three-handed, crossing over with infectious glee. Time is clapped, knees rise and fall, thighs are patted. The powerful attitude warns: prepare for me!
Tanya Holt takes the stage wearing lament like a heavy coat, periodically bucking forward in slo-mo as if life’s hit her in the gut. “Ill Wind” (Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler) is an exhausted plea, resigned, yet still entreating. Sustained vibrato nests at the wellspring of Holt’s throat like a controlled moan. “When I Get Low I Get High” (Chick Webb/Ella Fitzgerald) is smoky, ravaged, and focused. Every word is pristine, every ohahohoh like butter. You gotta do what you gotta do…she sings opening her eyes wide. Ehud Asherie’s piano erupts in pungent ragtime. Ken Peplowski’s clarinet seems to be having an illicitly good time.
Louis Armstrong/Jelly Roll Morton’s “Wildman Blues” and Duke Ellington’s “Creole Love Call” are delivered as instrumentals. The first is sassy, slinky, and very cool with high clarinet that oozes its way under one’s skin. The second conjures choreography by Alvin Ailey. Piano has classical underpinnings.
Ehud Asherie and Ken Peplowski
Harrison and Holt offer a number of tantalizing songs in tandem. “After You’ve Gone” (Turner Layton/Henry Creamer) aka “After We’ve Gone” is a threat to Pompie who ostensibly forks over less lettuce than a lady needs to survive. Holt is down on her haunches seducing her uncomfortable patron while Harrison shakes her bootie showing what he’ll miss. It’s a rag with humor.
“Willow Tree” finds two juicy voices wailing on top of, beside, and around each other with deference and style. The clarinet solo could make Gabriel jealous. A duet of the iconic “Mood Indigo” (Duke Ellington/Barney Bigard/Irving Mills) in harmony is as languid and sensual as stretching on satin sheets after a hot bath. “Blues in the Night” (Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer) includes an ooooeeee which is sheer evangelical call-out. Octave transitions are seamless. Piano plays robust honky-tonk.
Vocalists are well chosen. Harrison’s approach is bright and audacious while Holt’s wattage comes from deep, dusky ardor and lyric sculpting.
Lezlie Harrison, Pompie, Tanya Holt
There are comments and cracks personifying character which skillfully add to atmosphere, but the host’s monologue needs work and recordings of outside mayhem are unnecessary.
This is a really good time. A walk on the wildish side with primo musicians in benign surroundings.
Photos by Lou Montasano
Opening: Tanya Holt, Lezlie Harrison
Pompie’s Place- A Pop-Up Blues Club
Host Arthur “Pompie” Pomposello, for 18 years host and booker of the famed Oak Room at The Algonquin Hotel
Vocalists: Tanya Holt and Lezlie Harrison
Ehud Asherie- MD/Piano, Ken Peplowski-Reeds.
Directed by Gregg Goldston
One more show August 10- Jon-Erik Kellso-on Trumpet that night
178 Second Avenue between 11th & 12th Street