Lisa B merges singing, songwriting, and poetry-rap like no one else in today's pop, soul, or contemporary jazz.
The 1999 FREE ME FOR THE JOY is Lisa B's first full-length release, on her own Piece of Pie Records. It's all originals -- except for one collaboration with Coltrane's heartrending ballad classic "Naima," to which Lisa B reads her poem "Trane's Ride," written in Coltrane's imagined voice. The CD includes such stellar players as John Santos (Machete) and Curtis Ohlson (Ray Charles' band). FREE ME FOR THE JOY was added to the playlists of more than 85 commercial and noncommercial radio stations across the country in 1999-2000, including charting and heavy rotation. It was played in jazz, smooth jazz, college, triple A, women's, new age, and other formats, with reporting by trade magazines R&R, Gavin, and CMJ.
Here's some of what the press said about it:
DR. HERB WONG, EDUCATOR, CRITIC, FORMER RECORD LABEL EXECUTIVE:
"…Marvelously resourceful treatment of ´Naima´—no one´s ever done that. Wonderful use of impressions and lyrics. Very broad appeal."
"….bringing poetry and light rapping to…this introspective effort….Lisa provides a very dreamy ode to the saxophone master [John Coltrane]. Other noteworthy songs on the album range from the lush "I Remember Paradise" and the haunting "Turning It Around" to the Joni Mitchell-ish "You´re Not A Girl Anymore," which laughs at the ridiculous images of women…"
REVIEW BY JOHNATHAN WIDRAN IN "JAZZIZ" MAGAZINE
"No doubt the smooth-jazz and adult-contemporary success of the likes of Sade, Anita Baker, and Marilyn Scott inspired Lisa Bernstein to give things a shot with a dramatic, drawn-out, emotional voice that is a dead ringer for that of Dianne Reeves. Reeves and the others, however, focus on their pipes and leave the songwriting to either classic songwriters or to today´s best tunesmiths; whereas, Bernstein writes her own material."
Bernstein should be commended for her finer songwriting efforts, which range lyrically from the melancholy "I Remember Paradise" to the buoyantly optimistic title track. Ironically, her lyrics contrast with the music; the sad words accompany a peppy groove and the happy words ease over a sweet but somber instrumental bed. And sometimes, like on "You´re Not a Girl Anymore" - a coming-of-age tune detail[s} the loss of childhood illusions from a feminist viewpoint...
The most clever track is also the one most likely to annoy those who like their adult-contemporary vocalists to play it down the middle. ´Trane´s Ride´ finds Bernstein affecting a talk/rap to detail John Coltrane...while strains of the legendary saxman´s "Naima" float underneath... Some may see that as a bit pretentious, but it´s a neat experiment…."
REVIEW BY DREW WHEELER ON CDNOW.COM
"….Bay Area singer-songwriter-poet Lisa B pulls all her talents together on her debut album… "I Remember Paradise" has a studio-buffed sheen and a yearning chorus of lush, multitracked vocals, and the smoothly arranged "Whoever Loves Is Afraid" is memorable for its catchy refrain…The tart chorus of the sharp, lyrical "God of Your Heart" is welcome…Her computer-themed tune "Virtual Kiss´ boasts an engaging synthetic horn chart and spacey effects, and Coltrane homage "Trane´s Ride" sets a pleasant undercurrent of his melody…In her more unusual experiments, Lisa B is certainly capable of bringing Joy."
REVIEW BY DAVE HUGHES ON ALLABOUTJAZZ.COM
"In addition to established talent such as Diane Schuur, Diana Krall, and Dianne Reeves….worthy of your ears is…Lisa B´s "Free Me for the Joy"….The entire program consists of Lisa B originals, with the exception of "Trane´s Ride," which uses Trane´s "Naima" in the background. They´re devoid of cliché and formula, and most tunes have thoughtful, creative lyrics. Lisa B brings a fresh voice to today´s contemporary jazz."
REVIEW BY PAULA EDELSTEIN ON JAZZREVIEW.COM
"Award-winning singer-songwriter-poet Lisa B blends experimental poetry, pop, soul and jazz on her first full-length recording, ´Free Me for the Joy´ on Piece of Pie Records. She sings memorable originals including one collaboration with John Coltrane´s ´Naima,´ to which she has given vocals, a new chorus, and a midtempo jazz-hiphop flavor. The track, ´Trane´s Ride,´ is an expressive study in symbolism and depicts Lisa´s poetic skills that have evolved into personal appearances and now vocalese. The 10-song CD features Jim Gardiner, Curtis Ohlson and John Santos. The title track, co-written by Barbara Higbie of Windham Hill fame, is a grooving pop/R&B-flavored songs about seeing past the shadows of old heartbreak to the joy of new love. Lisa B is creative, versatile and offers an enjoyable set on her debut release. Rating: ****"
REVIEW BY REBECCA ROSEN LUM IN "JEWISH BULLETIN OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA," "WASHINGTON D.C. JEWISH WEEK," AND OTHER PUBLICATIONS ACROSS THE U.S.
"Singer Blends Rhapsodic Poetry - Feminism". Long before Lisa B began rocking audiences on the alternative club circuit, she was crafting lyrics in what she calls ´the Song of Songs tradition,´ where imagery of religious ardor matches romantic ecstasy.
Lisa B - that´s B for Bernstein - has since built up a following in the urban cultural phenomenon that has seen a blend of rap, poetry and spoken-word performance enjoy a fever-pitch popularity.
The Oakland resident, who is also a serious poet with several books and awards to her credit, has just released her first full-length CD, ´Free Me for the Joy.´
The CD reveals Lisa B´s talent for writing a powerful lyric.
´Trane´s Ride,´ written by Lisa B in honor of jazz great John Coltrane, is a rumbling plea to the ´Old Testament God´ for help with a hard journey…
…[She has a] rich, throaty voice and lively command of the language…
…As for her next move, Lisa B is up for the challenges of a performing career that can function within existing parameters-and cut new ones.
From Reviews by Steve Stolder, BAM Magazine:
"[In] Lisa B´s debut EP, ´Be the Word,´ the East Oakland vocalist/poetess´ four-man Swingin´ Word put a bit of sheen on their acid jazz concoction…Lisa B finds a unique niche that fuses John Coltrane, a breathy rap delivery, hip-hop beats, and a pronounced eroticism."
From Poetry Flash:
"...red-hot performance poet and musician Lisa B (a.k.a. Lisa Bernstein) is a jazz/club singer as well as an accomplished poet..."
Raised in New York and Northern California, Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) was influenced by lots of literature and music as she grew up, including such friends of her parents as saxophone master Jackie McLean and the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. She was inspired by jazz, soul, pop, rock, and show tunes. She studied classical piano from elementary school to high school and wrote songs and stories. She also wrote and studied poetry seriously since her teens, going on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and San Francisco State University, respectively.
Two books of her poetry have been published, the chapbook "Anorexia" (Five Fingers Poetry) and "The Transparent Body" (Wesleyan University Press). Her poems have appeared in more than 50 literary magazines and anthologies. She has received grants and residencies from the National Endowment for the Arts, Headlands Center for the Arts, Ucross Foundation, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund/Money for Women, and Puffin Foundation.
Lisa B’s many public poetry readings in the San Francisco Bay Area evolved into performances. One was a two-night, sold-out piece at the leading experimental theatre The Lab that included dancers and live music. Lisa B then began to focus on songwriting, singing, and music, studying first at the Blue Bear School of Music, then with renowned Bay Area vocal coach Jane Sharp. Lisa was soon gigging frequently, performing jazz and selected pop standards along with her own compositions. She has since performed at more than 80 clubs, performance spaces, colleges, bookstores, and radio stations in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and New York.
While often composing lyrics and music on her own, Lisa B enjoys co-writing with musicians, including singer-pianist Barbara Higbie (Windham Hill, women’s music); Latin jazz trombonist-arranger Wayne Wallace (Patois Records); and her longtime cowriter/producer/engineer, composer Jim Gardiner (Pharoah Sanders, Rickie Lee Jones, David Grisman, Seattle Symphony, and numerous Bay Area rap and soul artists).
Lisa B also applies her spirit of inventive collaboration to existing compositions. One example is Lisa B’s heartrending poem “Trane’s Ride” performed with Coltrane’s “Naima.” Another (on her CD WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT? and in remastered form on THE POETRY OF GROOVE) is her merging of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” with Lisa's magical poetic rap “The Cat Goddess.” Her second full-length CD CENTER OF THE RHYME contains two other such transformations: Lisa’s poetic homage “Joe Williams Died Walking” performed with “Every Day I Have the Blues” and Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love” with new poetic rap.
On Lisa B’s three first well-received CDs (1999, 2003, and 2006), she was a pioneer in merging spoken word and singing within her originals and re-envisioned covers, spanning swing, Latin, smooth hip-hop, and soulful pop.
In 2009, with THE POETRY OF GROOVE, Lisa B leaps from this foundation into a directed flight path – an entire set giving listeners Lisa’s uniquely seductive poetic rap and hooky choruses over jazzy hip-hop & electronica grooves. The CD includes 5 tracks of new material in various mixes, plus 5 tracks of remixed/ remastered spoken-word groove tunes from her past 3 CDs.
Other Previous CDs:
CENTER OF THE RHYME (2003), jazzier and more acoustic, revealed an evolved singing voice. Many of the Bay Area’s best jazz players appear, including Frank Martin (keyboards), Mimi Fox and Dave Yamasaki (guitar), Bill Douglass and Chris Amberger (bass), Paul van Wageningen (drums), Michael Spiro (percussion), and Daria (vocals).
- The Philadelphia Daily News wrote about it: “Daring, dexterous singer/songwriter/poet... imaginative originals with appeal to both traditional and contemporary jazz tastes and even, on occasion, hip-hop hipsters.”
- Jazz Times wrote: “…reveals a singer, spoken-word artist and poet with an incisive way of chronicling situations, memories and emotions. She sings with a pliable, expressive voice dipped in blue... B intercuts her smooth rendition of Bobby Caldwell's ‘What You Won't Do for Love’ with a rap, and turns saucily suggestive on ‘Keeps Me Up All Night.’”…A spacious musical bed, highlighted by romantic saxophone, swirls around her imagistic vocals on the title track.
(CENTER OF THE RHYME was played on more than 120 jazz and smooth jazz stations and shows throughout the U.S.)
On her third CD, WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT?: TUNES & TALES ABOUT COOL CATS (2006), Lisa B explores the magical contrasts embodied by the cat and personified by humans: wild/cozy, passionate/independent, playful/fierce. The CD combines original compositions with Lisa B’s refreshing takes on Burt Bacharach/Hal David, Graham Nash, and Cole Porter. She again features some of the Bay Area's best jazz musicians: Frank Martin and Ben Flint (keyboards), Danny Caron (guitar), Chris Amberger, Troy Lampkins, and John Shifflett (bass), Paul van Wageningen and Alan Hall (drums), and John Santos (percussion). Their combined talents takes the listener on a journey that is delightful and deep, cool and hot. This CD also got extensive radio play with charting on jazz and other stations. Critical response:
- “Lisa B is a wild ride...let her entertain you...you don't trip over pipes like these everyday.” -Midwest Record Recap
- “The force is strong with this one... creativity on a level that will soar above many.” - girlsingers.org
- “…sultry and witty and not at all precious. Some songs are overt in their references to their subject (the title track and the singer’s own "Slay Me (My Young Cat)"), some less so ("You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To"), but she sings all of them in a sensual, throaty voice… Her own songs are fun and sexy, and she brings a fresh voice to well-known songs. At first, I was reluctant to take ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’ seriously because of its playfulness and overt sexuality. I’ve found that I play it all the time, and like it more with each listen… Great musicians make ‘What’s New, Pussycat?’ come alive and help Lisa B keep the atmosphere fun and swinging… Fun, impressively played and sung, and, yes, very sexy. – soundstageav.com