In Ethan Coen’s recent theater piece A Play Is a Poem, the five mostly lighthearted one-act plays were linked by short songs written and performed by the madly talented Nellie McKay. In fact, the NYC singer-pianist’s charming interludes were the best thing about the otherwise unremarkable plays. Alternating on piano, vibraphone and ukulele, McKay purred with a jazzy aplomb, her delicately pretty melodies arcing gently across the Mark Taper Forum’s round room. And yet, just when you might be tempted to write her off as witty but retro sentimentalist, she’d slip in a sharply cutting line about Donald Trump, George Bush and people who eat meat. McKay’s most recent album, Sister Orchid, finds her putting her distinctive spin on a set of jazz and pop standards, but her sophisticated original songs fit alongside seamlessly with her classic inspirations. On Friday, October 25, the vocalist releases Bagatelles, a new companion EP to Sister Orchid.
Catalina Bar & Grill, 6725 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; Tues., Oct. 29, 8:30 p.m.; $20 plus food/drink minimum; all ages. (323) 466-2210, catalinajazzclub.com.