On her third CD, "What’s New, Pussycat?: Tunes & Tales about Cool Cats," Lisa B explores the magical contrasts embodied by the cat (and personified by humans): “both wild and cozy, passionate and independent, playful and fierce,” in her words. The new CD combines original compositions with Lisa B’s refreshing take on familiar songs by Burt Bacharach/Hal David, Graham Nash, and Cole Porter. It features 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).
MIDWEST RECORD RECAP:
"Lisa B is a wild ride...let her entertain you...you don't trip over pipes like these everyday."
"The force is strong with this one... creativity on a level that will soar above many."
“For her third album, vocalist and poet Lisa B looked to the life of the common housecat for inspiration to convey the deeply human emotions of longing and satisfaction, danger and playfulness. Purr along to her original compositions and classic covers.”
ALL MUSIC GUIDE:
“…musically and vocally, this 2006 release has a lot going for it…Bernstein uses the word cat as a metaphor — as hipster/beatnik/bebop slang — and she is really singing about human situations on jazzy, playful originals like 'Crazy Cat,' 'Slay Me (My Young Cat)' and the salsa-flavored 'Cha Cha de la Gata (Kitty-Cat Cha)'…from Bernstein’s own material to an intriguing arrangement of Graham Nash’s 'Our House,' 'What's New, Pussycat?' is infectious more often than not…on this generally memorable and clever CD.
“For all you cat lovers out there, here’s the perfect tribute to your mellow feline friend(s). Lisa Bernstein (aka Lisa B) sings a great set that delivers a view into the nine lives and times of a jazz cat… Lisa’s voice is flexible and harmonious, beautifully altering between the highs and lows of her sympatico range…
Lisa deftly expresses the slinky allure of the cha cha cha with ‘Kitty Cat Cha Cha’ and does a full rework of Cole Porter’s ‘Night and Day’ by inserting her magical original spoken word arrangement of ‘The Cat Goddess’ in the middle of the song. No wonder several ancient civilizations worshipped the cat!…Lisa B does it her way, scats about cats and makes it a hip listen!”
“Her theme of cats finds her doing everything from crooning a touching history/tribute to her own pet, ‘When Malika Sleeps,’ to ruminating on the mysteries of felines in spoken sections, to vocally ...purring through the old Tom Jones hit...as sex kitten... Cole Porter's classic ‘Night and Day,’ nicely sung and laidback, is combined with her spoken poem, ‘The Cat Goddess.’... in ‘Our House,’ the very fine, cozy old Graham Nash tun...Lisa does a sincere and lovely version of this, my favorite track on the album, simple and unadorned.”
“Vocalist and poet Lisa B has put together a collection of songs that explore not only the nature of the cat, but also… contentment, home, and the obvious contrasts inherent in the feline spirit ... One that really pays off is the layering of her spoken word ‘The Cat Goddess’ on top of the Cole Porter standard ‘Night and Day’… the sexy ‘Slay Me (My Young Cat),’ ‘The Home Inside’ (which reminds me of Joni Mitchell at her jazziest), the Latin shuffle of ‘Kitty-Cat Cha Cha (Cha Cha de la Gatita)’…and the spoken word ‘Warrior Cat.’ Who knew that cats had a political side?
The program ends with the poignant lullaby of 'When Malika Sleeps,' written for Lisa B's cat, who died not long before the What’s New, Pussycat? recording session began. Lisa describes this as dealing with 'the slippery slope between life and death that we creatures all must face.' True enough. I must say, that little 'meow' and purr at the end is very nice. What's New, Pussycat? will easily put a smile on your face.”
" 'What’s New, Pussycat?,' her newest, takes as its theme cats and their mysterious, independent behavior, but the result is 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. Lisa B is also a poet who has published two collections of her work, and here she weaves spoken-word portions into some of the selections. 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. Ben Flint’s keyboards on the first two tracks help set the tone, and Frank Martin’s clever piano playing on the rest of the disc complements Lisa B’s singing perfectly (check out the electric piano in 'Cha Cha de la Gata (Kitty-Cat Cha)'). The recording is vibrant and detailed. 'What’s New Pussycat?' is fun, impressively played and sung, and, yes, very sexy."
Here are Lisa's notes about the CD's songs:
~ ~ ~I sang Burt Bacharach’s "What’s New, Pussycat?" as a little girl, and it was the first tune I thought of for this project. Scott R. Looney’s arrangement delivers just the right colors. I love the contrast with Tom Jones’ well-known version, and the joy of singing this waltz, with its references to flowers and makeup and lips, as one female to another.
~ Balancing the first track’s yin quality of romance, "Slay Me (My Young Cat)" has a yang quality of feistiness and challenge. When I wrote it, I was dating a younger man, and for the first time acting as a mentor in many ways to a partner. With its spare groove animated by funky pianist/cowriter Ben Flint, “Slay Me” plays with the pleasures of shifting power dynamics: “I’m so strong, I need a cat who stands his ground,/who knows how to roll in the grass/and how to lay me down.”
~ What ritmo embodies the back-and-forth drama of un gato y una gata better than a cha cha? I was thrilled to collaborate with Latin jazz maestro Wayne Wallace on "Cha Cha de la Gata (Kitty-Cat Cha Cha)," especially because more than 15 years ago, I wrote my first tune in his songwriting class. I also was glad I could fulfill my mother’s request that I mix some Spanish into my English lyrics, adding some sabor picante.
~ Although "Our House" includes only one line about cats, that’s the line everyone remembers best. It was a treat to record a stripped-down, acoustic ballad version, and to sing a rare song of pure contentment.
~ The longing expressed by Cole Porter’s "Night and Day" always seemed to me as spiritual as it was erotic. This version’s spoken-word sections call up the ancient magic of the cat and her association with incarnations of the goddess, from Bastet to Isis, from the huntress Artemis/Diana to the witches burned during the Inquisition. Her embodiment of fertility persists in nursery rhymes like “hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, the cow jumps over the moon.” Magic moved me to improvise the end of this tune, and to pray that I may also live nine lives.
~ "Crazy Cat" existed (under another name) in a darting melody and poignant chords by Scott Looney that suggested this driving samba treatment and these lyrics. I now see that they echo the motifs that ring throughout this record: playfulness and heat, running and returning, longing and satisfaction – in short, the tension between the domesticated and the wild that is personified by the cat.
~ The Brazilian flavor continues with a bossa approach to "You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To" (another by Cole Porter; he must have been a cat lover). Because of my background as a poet, everything I do vocally aims to serve the lyrics and to express their phrasing, imagery, and story. One can really wrap oneself around these words.
~ The waltz ballad "The Home Inside" doesn’t have to do overtly with cats, but anyone who loves cats values the ability to create the essence of home, alone, and from the inside.
~ The poetry-rap tune "Warrior Cat" moves from the endless wartime that bombards us to a true warrior nature as revealed by the cat. We in the First World are easily distracted into ignoring the costs of our warmaking. Sometimes the only thing to wake us up is “words and music thrumming power and pleasure / ’til you spring up for your own truth, and tell it like treasure!”.
~ My nearly 19-year-old cat Malika, followed by her sister Camille, died a few months before I finished this record. When she was still alive, I wrote "When Malika Sleeps," a lullaby about the slippery slope between life and death that we creatures all must face. “Yes, the time we’re alive is a light between two dreams.” May we each have the bravery and vision of the cat, and may we leap as fearlessly. ~ ~ Lisa B (Lisa Bernstein) ~
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” on FREE ME FOR THE JOY and remastered for THE POETRY OF GROOVE. Another, on WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT?, 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 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 first three well-received CDs (FREE ME FOR THE JOY, 1999, CENTER OF THE RHYME, 2003, and WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT?, 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 direct 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:
The 1999 FREE ME FOR THE JOY is Lisa B’s first full-length release, on her own Piece of Pie Records. Mostly originals, it includes such stellar players as John Santos (Machete) and Curtis Ohlson (Ray Charles’ band).
- Jonathan Widran wrote about it in Jazziz: “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.”
- Paula Edelstein wrote 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 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, in jazz, smooth jazz, college, triple A, women’s, new age, and other formats.)
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.)