Mixed grill

By JON GARELICK  |  December 1, 2008

Bryant brings his long-time quartet with Merenda, bassist John Turner, and drummer Eric Rosenthal to one of Longy's multi-artist Department of Modern American Music concerts tonight (December 4), and he returns to the Outpost on December 20 with a two-drummer line-up that features Turner, Rosenthal, and Curt Newton. For a full Outpost calendar, go to www.zeitgeist-outpost.org.

Monique Ortiz celebrated her birthday at Toad on November 23 playing the second gig with a new line-up: bassist Steve Breman and drummer Rob Hulsman. This outfit is in addition to, not a replacement for, A.K.A.C.O.D., her band with former Morphine saxman Dana Colley and drummer Larry Dersch. In fact, between sets at Toad, Dersch (who came to check out the show) and Ortiz told me that A.K.A.C.O.D. are due to record with David Minehan this week.

At Toad, Ortiz started with a couple of songs from her days as Bourbon Princess, "Still Asleep" — with loud, fuzzed-out four-string fretless bass, the lyrics inaudible — and the misterioso sex fantasy "Jim," the lyrics clear this time: "There's a tall man/I see him almost every day/He looks at me in the most peculiar way." Breman came up for "Minor Key" and "Three Chairs," and then a spontaneous improv on an up-tempo groove, Hulsman getting a hard tom-tom sound with a pair of small mallets, Ortiz deploying feedback exclamation points at the end of phrases with her two-string slide bass. Then there was a new one, "Bad Girl," slow and simmering, and "Sunburned," fast on two-string slide bass with Breman on maracas.

Ortiz, as usual, looked and played fierce — buff in a sleeveless V-neck shirt and leather pants, stomping the stage and belting out vocals against the din. It was hard to know on the slight evidence of the one set what Breman's second bass adds, except to make her brand of "lowrock" even lower. Whatever. It's cheering to watch Ortiz — working three jobs to make ends meet, she said — still commanding the stage, and with a growing catalogue of songs that just seems to get better in every incarnation. In a couple of months she and Hulsman and Breman will be recording with Queens of the Stone Age's Dave Catching at his Rancho de la Luna studio in Joshua Tree.

Singer Morley is Ortiz's opposite. She's tall, blonde, and sunny, and at the Regattabar a week ago Tuesday, she wore a long wrap-around dress, a long scarf, and red feather earrings. She writes love songs and songs of personal empowerment and social awareness. It might all be too much if it weren't for her witty, self-depreciating stage manner and her very real talent — a deep alto voice more jazz honey than rock red meat, a literate way with rhyme, and songs that always deliver a hook, with the groove and the arrangements (she was traveling with her wonderful back-up singer, Keith Fluitt), but also with her sure feeling for the click and hum of verse-chorus-bridge.

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