Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Published: March 8, 2008

The jazz singer Diane Schuur has a stage personality that brings to mind the kind of garrulous partygoer whose slightly hysterical laughter can be heard pealing above the din. She is a blowzy next-door neighbor in frayed housedress gulping coffee while dispensing back-fence gossip with a cheery gusto. When she gets excited during a song, she flutters her hands and snaps her fingers. On Thursday evening at the Blue Note, where she began a four-night engagement, she referred to people in the audience as “dear” and “sweetheart.”

Vocally, this translates into an approach that comes at you like an assault of purposeful bonhomie. When some people say “good morning,” wearing a big broad grin, you feel pressured to respond in the same tone, no matter your mood.

Although Ms. Schuur is a considerably less flamboyant stylist than she used to be, her performances are still more about flexing her instrument than anything else. Her voice is impressive in its size, range and brightness. A song can suddenly fly up an octave into little-girl squeals, then make a swan dive into the murky depths. She uses her twirling vibrato as rhythmic punctuation. After drawing out a note, she dispenses that vibrato like the cherry on a sundae.

On Thursday Ms. Schuur, accompanied by Randy Porter on piano, Scott Steed on bass, Dan Balmer on guitar and Reggie Jackson on drums, sang 12 songs, seven of them from her newest album, “Some Other Time” (Concord). They included two Berlins, two Gershwins and a Porter.
For all her knowledge of songs, Ms. Schuur isn’t much interested in lyrics. How phrases are divided and words are emphasized is determined by her rhythmic concept of a song, not by any message she wants to impart. The word “the” can be the most dramatically stated moment in an interpretation. Singing “Turn up the quiet” in “Love Dance,” she turned up the volume.

“It Don’t Mean a Thing (if It Ain’t Got That Swing),” the show’s strongest performance, found Ms. Schuur at the piano. For the first time in the set, her mannerisms synchronized with her band as she scatted percussively, sang in unison with the guitar and bass, then traded call-and-response riffs with the players. Mr. Jackson’s extended drum solo grounded this Ellington standard in pure rhythm. It swung hard.

Diane Schuur is appearing through Sunday at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, Greenwich Village; (212) 475-8592,

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