In an Overbrook Avenue home on Saturday night, Wynne Alexander plied her trade in a salon setting.
The venue was the Psalm, where artists conduct and discuss their work in a seemingly nondenominational spiritual space. The twinkle of burning candles in Depression glass, the scent of sandalwood: It's all here.
Alexander, for the uninitiated, is an unsung heroine of the Philadelphia cabaret scene, an electric pianist and quavering vocalist who, along with drummer Robert Lee, turns the form on its ear with its piquant lit-witty lyricism and its low, rhythm-heavy tones.
Her music - at the Psalm heaving ticklish takes on rock-and-roll classics like "I Hear You Knocking" that replace guitars with equally rangy, oddly angled piano and bouncing tom-toms, and slowly sinister disco-waltzing originals like "Thinking of You" with grand French-language bridges and phrases as arched as her eyebrows - nearly pales in comparison to Alexander's backstory.
She had a grandfather and father who owned and operated WDAS-FM until its 1979 sale. Like her family and their station, Alexander fought the good fight for racial equality, human justice and higher education, first as a teen on-air reporter for 'DAS during its golden era, recently as an author whose Get It From the Drums: A History of Protest and Protest Songs of the 1960s and '70s has become a scholastic text.
To repeat, her music nearly pales. For Alexander's haughty, smoky sound took into consideration the grainy bass quiver of Bryan Ferry, the heady romanticism of Billy Strayhorn, and the blues-imbued jazz classicism of Hazel Scott - sometimes all at once.
The invaluable Lee created rumbling ferocity (on "Controlez-Vous") and pumping syncopation worthy of a Bob Fosse finale ("Catch a Ride").
Yet Alexander strode on deep, darkly humored ground, cuttingly crooning and swooning low through the lyrical crossfire of kiss-off cabaret ("Semi-Dream State") and leering rockabilly-filled blues ("Tell Me 'Bout the World"), whose wit was as wily as her piano fills.