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WEEKEND REVIEWS : Jazz : Annie Ross Shows a Cultivated, Elegant Style at Jazz Bakery

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Many people thought singer Annie Ross was playing herself in Robert Altman’s 1993 film “Short Cuts.” But the Ross who showed up Friday at the Jazz Bakery for the first night of a two-night stand was decidedly much more elegant and refined than the gritty vocalist she played in Altman’s multilayered tale of life in Los Angeles.

Here, even when singing the movie’s de facto theme song, “To Hell With Love,” Ross worked in a more cultivated style, imparting the sense that she didn’t completely believe the tune’s message. That was a decided change from the tough-as-nails, devilish treatment she gave the song in the movie.

Longtime fans, of course, expect nothing else from the one-time Lambert, Hendricks & Ross vocalist, a class act if ever there was one. A capacity audience that included Altman was treated to a wide-ranging program that highlighted Ross’ vocal skills as well as her talents as a lyricist, all delivered in extremely sophisticated style.

Ross’ voice is not the supple instrument it once was. But what she lacked in pitch and control was balanced with the sort of deep character that few singers ever develop. Such tunes as “Our Love Is Here to Stay,” “Invitation to the Blues” and the Johnny Mandel-Alan Bergman number “Where Do You Start?” became entrancing short stories in her hands, aided by a theatrical sense of phrasing and the occasional line delivered as speech rather than song.

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Not everything here was of the wine-and-roses variety. Ross got down and dirty on “Going to Chicago,” the words sometimes issuing like trumpet bursts from her mouth. She swung hard on “Jumpin’ at the Woodside,” showing off her rhythmic smarts with well-phrased scat and word repetitions.

Ross’ supporting trio, pianist Gerald Wiggins, bassist Richard Simon and drummer Paul Humphrey, was equally sophisticated, gamely following the vocalist wherever she might lead. Wiggins, himself a class act, was deliciously understated and witty during his solo spots.

The evening’s most tasteful presentation came during the last tune, a considered reading of Russ Freeman’s “Music Is Forever,” for which Ross wrote the words. The sentiment it expressed, that music exists as immortal treasure, seemed particularly apt coming from this diamond of a musical performer.


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