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Mark Winkler and Cheryl Bentyne’s Eastern Standard Time (Café Pacific Records) is an intimate, thoughtfully rendered extension of the witty, heartfelt and eminently swinging repartee they first exhibited on their critically acclaimed 2013 release West Coast Cool — only this time the repertoire is flavored by the duo’s warm feelings about New York City.
They allow themselves two solo spotlights each, the most compelling being Winkler’s bold twist of Wes Montgomery’s “Bumpin’” into the laid-back “I Could Get Used to This” (featuring new lyrics by the singer/songwriter) and Bentyne’s spirited romp through Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The Gentleman is a Dope.” The rest of the time they’re all class and sass as they showcase their storytelling prowess on numbers popularized by the likes of Sinatra, Blossom Dearie, Peggy Lee and New York sophisticates Jackie & Roy.
Both singers are aware that while Lou Reed’s salty “Walk on the Wild Side” is a quintessential New York City song, it’s also a brash outlier in the midst of urbane tunes from the previous generation. The decision to include it was Bentyne’s, and Winkler came onboard as soon as he heard the hip arrangement by Eli Brueggemann, currently the musical director of another Big Apple institution, Saturday Night Live.
“Every song but ‘Walk’ should be listened to as if you have a Scotch in one hand and a beautiful blond on your arm,” Winkler says. “With ‘Walk,’ maybe it’s a tab of acid and a leather-clad queen.”
Bentyne continues: “We wanted to give [listeners] a unique buffet of tunes that start in one place they hopefully like, then give them some random things that they might not expect but that still give them a sense of location and story.”
In many ways, Eastern Standard Time is the album these veteran jazz singers have been longing to do their entire lives. Winkler grew up in Los Angeles in the ’60s, but part of his heart always lay some 3,000 miles away. Referencing Woodstock, he says, “I never aspired to hang out on a farm with hippies. I always wanted to go to New York City and be with intellectuals, smoke, drink, talk about Dorothy Parker, wear a tux and sing like Bobby Short.”
A native of Washington state, Bentyne has been associated with New York City for nearly 40 years as part of the NYC-based vocal group The Manhattan Transfer. Before joining, she often performed at the famed Greenwich Village piano bar Five Oaks. “My dreams started with coming to New York, being a singer and just sitting in,” she says. “Mark dreamed of wearing skinny suits and being part of the scene, too. Eastern Standard Time really takes us back to our musical roots where these flights of fancy began.” —Jonathan Widran [caption id="attachment_14492" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Feature photo by Mikel Healey[/caption]