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Sound Stage

Old school cool

2/27/2013

Amber Duimstra and friends at Chuck’s Restaurant, Saturday, Feb. 23.

Amber Duimstra and friends at Chuck’s Restaurant, Saturday, Feb. 23.

Is there anything more ring-a-ding-ding cool than sitting at Chuck’s Restaurant, having jazzy standards and covers crooned at you while you scarf down a mouthful of carbs? Saturday, Feb. 23 was a night for just that sort of thing, courtesy of Steve Charlson.                

Charlson, an accomplished bassist who’s played with everyone from the Dubuque Symphony to Rosemary Clooney, is a regular fixture at Chuck’s. The cast around him rotates from time to time, and on this night Charlson was accompanied by guitarist Rob Ankum, Julius Brooks on sax and vocalist Amber Duimstra.                

Duimstra is one of the city’s hidden gems. She’s a charismatic vocalist who banters easily with her audience and frequently points out friends sitting in the crowd. She’s an effervescent and thoroughly entertaining personality. And while her vocals may lack Bonne Finken’s fervor, or the sheer power of Tina Haase Findlay, Duimstra’s voice is beautiful in its own right: smoky and cool, capable of giving familiar songs new life.               

The group’s first set was full of standards: Lady Ella, Peggy Lee and Nat Cole all received a little service. This kind of stuff was right in the group’s wheelhouse; Duimstra’s deft vocals giving way to improvised solos from Brooks, Ankum and Charlson and back again. The second set, while similar in sound and style, switched eras and offered up covers of everything from Queen to Duffy to Radiohead. Duimstra’s understated, mournful rendition of “Creep” would have been the song of the night if the show hadn’t been absolutely stolen by Brooks at the end of the first set. The long-time sax man took to the mic and captivated the room with “What a Wonderful World.” Performing in a dining setting is always a challenge because of the constant clink of plates and the bubbling conversation, but while Brooks sang, not a fork was lifted or a word uttered. Wonderful, indeed. CV

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