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ALL THAT JAZZ

Dee Dee Bridgewater has been at this for a while. The jazz singer (and U.N. ambassador) has been performing in New York since 1970, and now she’s got Grammy awards to show for it. But it’s her ability to interpret the flavor of her surroundings that makes this saucy Tennessee songstress really feel like our own, and her collaborations with the great musicians of our time — like Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, and Dexter Gordon, among many others — make her the perfect headliner for the 2014 Benefit Concert for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem tonight. Bridgewater performs alongside rising star and director-at-large Jonathan Batiste. Lisa Staiano-Coico, president of City College, and pianist McCoy Tyner are honored at this year’s awards ceremony. At Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College.

Mon., June 9, 7:30 p.m., 2014

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Jazz for Obama 2012 – Symphony Space – 10/9/2012

Better than: The debates.

The pianist Aaron Goldberg has been organizing jazz benefit concerts for every presidential election since 2004 to raise money for the Democratic side. I’m the kind of person to shy away from partisan events in general, where, I’ve found, sanctimony can hang heavy in the air. But I decided to attend last night’s Jazz for Obama concert–the latest installment in Goldberg’s endeavor, held last night at Symphony Space–because he had enlisted so many remarkable jazz musicians to perform.

As it turned out, Jazz for Obama was, simply, an outstanding jazz concert, one of the best I’ve seen in a while. (According to the event’s website, it has raised $37,840; tickets cost at least $100.) There were, of course, moments to remind you that you had attended a political fundraiser: When the singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, who hosted the evening, sang the Isley Brothers song “It’s Your Thing” in a duo with the bassist Christian McBride, she used the title of the song to remind those in the crowd of their responsibility to vote. A good point, but probably not something you have to say to a large group of mostly middle-aged people on the Upper West Side.

See Also:

The Best Jazz Shows in New York City This Week

Other musicians, it seemed, expressed their politics less directly. The saxophonist Jimmy Heath, all smiles, sweetly dedicated “There Will Never Be Another You” to President Obama. In “105,” Becca Stevens sang, using a text she borrowed from the poet Jane Tyson Clement: “A Necessary evil is portioned to the heart/ We might as well acknowledge the devil from the start.” (Make of that what you will.) The bassist Henry Grimes played “Freedom Jazz Dance” in a trio with the pianist Geri Allen and the drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. Grimes played an army green bass, covered in stickers, and wore an Obama pin on the lapel of his suit jacket.

About 25 musicians performed last night–the youngest, if I’m not mistaken, being the 18-year-old trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, son of the Latin jazz pianist Arturo (who also played), and the oldest being Roy Haynes, 87. That’s a pretty big difference in age, but it reflects jazz’s capacity for continuity and surprise.

And most of the surprises at Jazz for Obama came from drummers. As the pianist Brad Mehldau played a Thelonious Monk tune with McBride, Watts snuck up to the drum kit, picked up a pair of brushes and joined in. Mehldau and McBride looked over with amused gratitude; it was exactly the kind of late-set move the concert needed to get re-energized.

Haynes, who wore a green jacket and velvet pants, tap danced up to the drums before sitting down to play. He dominated the song, taking a solo full of raw, one-stroke smashes. At one point, he casually left his seat to walk around and hit the other side of the bass drum with his drumstick.

About half way through the set, Ravi Coltrane played “Wise One” (a composition written by his father) in a quartet with McBride, Allen and the drummer Ralph Peterson. It’s a deep, searching tune, executed terrifically by the entire band, but Peterson’s drumming amazed the most. He delivered hurricanes of rhythm, evoking the raw power of Art Blakey and the loose intensity of Elvin Jones.

At some point, it was revealed that Peterson had driven down that evening from Boston, where he teaches, to play in the show. For one song. Right after that he was driving back north for a class the next morning. It was probably the most righteous thing anyone had done that evening.

Critical Bias: I’m voting for Obama, and I really like jazz.

Overheard: “That was a great show,” multiple times, in the bathroom.

Random Notebook Dump: The comedian Andy Borowitz, who made an unexpected cameo to introduce the show, had some funny remarks about MSNBC, which he called “Fox for vegans.” Then he likened the channel’s new slogan, “Lean Forward,” to the directions you’d hear at a rectal examination.

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Ghost Brand: Dee Dee Bridgewater and Stephanie Nakasian Tackle Billie Holiday

Even though she portrayed Billie Holiday onstage in Paris and London some years ago, apparently to rave reviews, Dee Dee Bridgewater doesn’t try to channel her on Eleanora Fagan (1915–1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater (DDB/Emarcy). If anything, when not evoking the raspiness of Holiday’s later years, as on “Don’t Explain,” Bridgewater often seems to be going out of her way not to sound like Holiday, even in passing. This is admirable, but only in theory, because it brings Eleanora Fagan face to face with a dilemma confronting all jazz “tribute” albums: If the iconic figure to whom you’re genuflecting was as much identified with an approach to material as with the material itself, then doesn’t approaching those tunes differently risk sacrificing something absolutely essential?

“Diana Ross’s singing is too close,” Pauline Kael complained of the 1972 movie Lady Sings the Blues. “When she sings the songs that Holiday’s phrasing fixed in our minds and imitates that phrasing, our memories are blurred. I felt as if I were losing something.” Afterward, Kael lamented, “You have to retrieve her at the phonograph—you have to do restoration work on your own past.” Inasmuch as the movie loosed an avalanche of Holiday reissues, Kael’s worry that a coy approximation would drive the genuine article from memory proved groundless. But memory can become generic, and to the extent that Holiday’s small, wounding voice has blended with more robust black female voices in the public mind, don’t blame Ross for supposedly coming too close—blame others who seem to think all it takes is pinning a white gardenia behind one ear. Sandra Reaves-Phillips, for example, in her 1980s one-woman revue The Late, Great Ladies of Jazz and Blues, subjected Holiday, Bessie Smith, Mahalia Jackson, and Dinah Washington to the same crude, Big Mama, meat-shakin’-on-the-bone, Broadway caricature—as if being victims of systemic racism and abusive, parasitic men rendered all of them one.

For what it’s worth, Bridgewater sports a gardenia in her stylized cover photo. But her shaved head makes the effect somewhat ironic, and her un-Ladylike exhortations to drummer Lewis Nash on “Miss Brown to You” and bassist Christian McBride on “Mother’s Son-in-Law” notwithstanding, she’s too smart and too committed to a jazz aesthetic to make the same mistake as Reaves-Phillips. Even so, she and Holiday are just too unlikely a match.

Coming of age during the Great Depression, Holiday made do with table scraps in terms of conventional vocal technique. Her artistry depended on phrasing—on slight shifts in inflection that not only lent deeper meaning to even the most sentimental or trivial lyric (often by tacitly mocking it), but that also yielded harmonic enrichments and rhythmic displacements as surprising as those of Louis Armstrong or Lester Young. She became a public emblem of self-indulgence for her personal life—especially following the publication of a tawdry, ghosted autobiography in 1956—but her singing was never self-indulgent. Self-pitying, maybe, toward the bitter end. But blessedly, she lacked the equipment for vocal self-indulgence.

At her best, lavishing big feelings on superior ballads like “Good Morning, Heartache” and “You’ve Changed” (both of which benefit from James Carter’s atmospheric scene-setting on bass clarinet and tenor saxophone, respectively), Bridgewater has technique to spare on Eleanora Fagan, including a Sarah Vaughan–like tessitura she can’t stop herself from showing off. Unlike Holiday, who lingered behind the beat with no desire to ruin the suspense by catching up, Bridgewater has seemingly never been confronted with an uptempo pace she couldn’t outrun.

This is who she is, and it can be great fun. One of her trademarks is fragmenting an entire line or two of a lyric into a rapid-fire, evenly accented staccato, and when she gets going on pianist Edsel Gomez’s tricky, polyrhythmic arrangement of “Lady Sings the Blues” to open the album, her momentum pulls you right along—a Holiday plaint is successfully transformed into a sassy celebration. But Bridgewater uses this device far too often as the album progresses, and some of her attempts to put her own stamp on Holiday’s material come off as perverse. When she changes “Lover Man” from a naked, erotic plea into a flirty nursery rhyme, it’s as if she’s taken the wrong message from Glenn Coulter’s famous observation that “next to Billie, others singing of love sound like little girls playing house.”

Eleanora Fagan goes completely off the rails only at the very end, with an anguished and—dare I say it?—overdramatized reading of “Strange Fruit” that owes more to Nina Simone than Holiday (“an actress without an act,” in the words of Martin Williams, as long as I’m quoting other writers), who trusted Abel Meeropol’s graphic imagery of a Southern lynching to speak for itself—as if watching events unfold with an audience spellbound by her every word, too shocked to register outrage until the end. (At least Bridgewater doesn’t follow it with “Willow, Weep for Me,” as Nnenna Freelon did on her 2005 Holiday tribute album.) Here we have what might be the most telling difference between Holiday and Bridgewater. In her final years, Holiday could be openly contemptuous toward audiences she sensed were there strictly for the schadenfreude. But even on her carefree early recordings, she sounds completely within herself, indifferent to anyone but her fellow musicians. Bridgewater, conversely, is a born crowd-pleaser, and just how theatrical she is became fully apparent to me once I heard Eleanora Fagan over speakers instead of headphones—she requires a stage larger than my hat size. Whereas Holiday, though keeping her distance, always seems to be emanating from within your head, leaving enough to the imagination to be a figment of it.


The snatch of lyric that kept going through my head as I listened to Eleanora Fagan and Stephanie Nakasian’s much more modest Billie Remembered was from Irene Kitching and Arthur Herzog’s “Ghost of Yesterday”—”mournfully, scornfully dead.” Though the song isn’t on either album, I think that insistent internal rhyme personifying a lost love came to mind because it uncannily describes a contemporary jazz scene haunted by totemic figures long departed. No matter how honorably intended, a tribute to Holiday (or to Ellington, Monk, Miles, Coltrane, etc.) is a tacit attempt by a living musician to do business under the shelter of a recognized brand. In Holiday’s case, that gardenia amounts to a logo.

Even so, we can all name albums on which retracing the footsteps of giants, though they risk sinking in them, yields deeply satisfying results, and though Carmen McRae’s 1962 Lover Man, which caught both Holiday’s ups and downs, will forever remain the gold standard, Billie Remembered joins it near the top of the list. Nakasian, who is white, understandably shies away from Holiday’s more racially or autobiographically charged material, instead focusing on the ebullient sides she recorded with leading lights of the swing era in 1935 and ’36, when she was barely out of her teens and still laughing at life. These are songs frequently dismissed as piffle, but no one needs to apologize for “These Foolish Things” or Dorothy Parker’s charming lyrics to “I Wished on the Moon,” or minor items like “It’s Like Reaching for the Moon” and “No Regrets,” which still have Billie’s fragrance on them.

The album’s triumph is largely one of context. Along with pianist Hod O’Brien (Nakasian’s husband and music director), the seven-piece band includes tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, trumpeter Randy Sandke, and alto saxophonist and clarinetist Dan Block, all of whom have long evinced genuine affinity for ’30s jazz styles. When was the last time you heard rhythm guitar on a jazz record? The venerable Marty Grosz again proves himself the best in the business of selfless propulsion since Freddie Green, and the only apt word for his chording behind Nakasian on the verse to “These Foolish Things” is “lovely.”

None of which would matter if Nakasian didn’t have a keen appreciation of the era herself. A regular on the public-radio program Riverwalk, she can be a talented mimic, and if all you knew by her was Thrush Hour, a 2004 CD on which she pointlessly does 20 songs in the styles of singers ranging from Bessie Smith to Blossom Dearie, you’d think that’s all she is. But here, as on her earlier salutes to June Christie and Lee Wiley, she gives you just enough of the original artist to acknowledge a prior claim to these numbers. Although in her fifties, Nakasian captures some of the youthful Billie’s lilt—and she has enough confidence in herself and in her honoree to know that a little lilt goes a long way. You might never know what Billie Holiday actually sounded like from Eleanora Fagan. But Billie Remembered would at least give you the right idea.

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The 2007 Jazz Poll

Jazz Record of the Year

1. Maria Schneider, Sky Blue (ArtistShare) 188.5 points (26 ballots)

2. Charles Mingus, Cornell 1964 (Blue Note) 133 (19)

3. Michael Brecker, Pilgrimage (Heads Up) 104 (15)

4. Terence Blanchard, A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina) (Blue Note) 95 (13)

5. Joe Lovano & Hank Jones, Kids (Blue Note) 92 (14)

6. Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters (Verve) 75 (13)

7. Dee Dee Bridgewater, Red Earth (DDB/EmArcy) 71 (9)

8. Joshua Redman, Back East (Nonesuch) 62 (12)

9. Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette, My Foolish Heart (ECM) 61 (8)

10. Abbey Lincoln, Abbey Sings Abbey (Verve) 55 (8)

11. McCoy Tyner, Quartet (HalfNote/McCoy Tyner Music) 54 (9)

12. Anat Cohen, Poetica (Anzic) 43 (6)

13. Trio M (Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson), Big Picture (Cryptogramophone) 42 (7)

14. Carla Bley, The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu (ECM/Watt) 41 (7)

15. Paul Motian, Time and Time Again (ECM) 35 (7)

16. Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake, From the River to the Ocean (Thrill Jockey) 34.5 (6)

17. Joe Zawinul, Brown Street(Heads Up) 34 (5)

18. Anat Cohen, Noir (Anzic) 32.5 (5)

19. Miles Davis, Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival (MJF/Concord) 31 (5)

20. William Parker, Corn Meal Dance (AUM Fidelity) 31 (4)

21. Steve Lacy & Roswell Rudd, Early and Late (Cuneiform) 30 (7)

22. Bill Holman, Hommage (Jazzed Media) 30 (4)

23. The Bad Plus, Prog (Do the Math/Heads Up) 29.5 (5)

24. Jewels and Binoculars, Ships With Tattooed Sails: The Music of Bob Dylan (Upshot) 29 (4)

25. David Murray, Sacred Ground (Justin Time) 28.5 (7)

26. David Torn, Prezens (ECM) 26 (4)

27. Charles Tolliver, With Love (Blue Note/Mosaic) 25 (5)

28. Muhal Richard Abrams, Vision Towards Essence (Pi) 25 (4)
Bill Charlap, Live at the Village Vanguard (Blue Note) 25 (4)

30. Matthew Shipp, Piano Vortex (Thirsty Ear) 24.5 (5)
David S. Ware, Renunciation(AUM Fidelity) 24.5 (5)

32. Anthony Braxton, 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006 (Firehouse 12) 24.5 (3)

Tyshawn Sorey, That/Not (Firehouse 12) 24.5 (3)

34. Chris Potter, Follow the Red Line: Live at the Village Vanguard (Sunnyside) 22 (4)

35. The Claudia Quintet, For (Cuneiform) 21.5 (4)

36. Bennie Wallace, Disorder at the Border (Justin Time) 20.5 (3)

37. Harry Allen & Joe Cohn, Music From “Guys and Dolls” (Arbors) 20 (4)

38. Roscoe Mitchell, Composition/ Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 (ECM) 20 (3)

39. Chris Potter, Song for Anyone (Sunnyside) 19.5 (4)

40. Peter Brötzmann/Mats Gustafsson/Ken Vandermark, Sonore: Only the Devil Has No Dreams(Jazzwerkstatt) 19 (2)

Evan Christopher, Delta Bound (Arbors) 19 (2)

42. Bill McHenry, Roses (Sunnyside) 18 (4)
Tierney Sutton, On the Other Side (Telarc) 18 (4)

44. Exploding Star Orchestra, We Are All From Somewhere Else (Thrill Jockey) 18 (3)

45. Powerhouse Sound, Oslo/Chicago: Breaks (Atavistic) 18 (2)

46. Andy Bey,Ain’t Necessarily So (12th St.) 17.5 (3)

47. Robert Glasper, In My Element (Blue Note) 17 (3)

48. Nels Cline Singers, Draw Breath (Cryptogramophone) 17 (2)
Mark Murphy, Love Is What Stays (Verve) 17 (2)

50. John Abercrombie, The Third Quartet (ECM) 16 (4)

*Totals for Disorder at the Border include 5.5 (1) from 2006.

Critics were asked to list 10 albums in descending order, with 10 points awarded for their 1, nine for 2, etc. (On ballots where choices were listed alphabetically, each received 5.5 points.) The first bold number indicates total points; the number in parentheses is the tally of ballots on which a CD appeared, which was used as a tiebreaker.

Jazz Reissue of the Year

1. Miles Davis, The Complete “On the Corner” Sessions (Columbia/Legacy) 61 points (23 ballots)

2. John Coltrane, Interplay (Prestige) 23 (11)

3. Chu Berry, Classic Columbia and Victor Sessions(Mosaic) 20 (8)

4. Andrew Hill, Compulson (Blue Note) 14 (7)

5. Duke Ellington, The Complete 1936-1940 Variety, Vocalion and Okeh Small Group Sessions (Mosaic) 14 (6)

6. Lionel Hampton, The Complete Victor Sessions, 1937-1941 (Mosaic) 11 (4)

7. King Oliver, Off the Record: The Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings (Off the Record) 10 (5)*

8. Roy Haynes, A Life in Time: The Roy Haynes Story (Dreyfus) 10 (4)

9. Dewey Redman, The Struggle Continues (ECM) 9 (5)

10. Billie Holiday, Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles (Columbia/Legacy) 8 (4)

*Totals include 2 (1) from 2006

*Totals include 3 (1) from 2006

Critics were asked to list three reissues in descending order, with three points awarded for 1, two for 2, and one for 3. The first bold number indicates total points; the number in parentheses tallies ballots on which a CD appeared, which was used as a tiebreaker.

Best Vocal Album

1. Dee Dee Bridgewater, Red Earth (EmArcy) 8
Abbey Lincoln, Abbey Sings Abbey (Verve) 8
3. Kurt Elling, Nightmoves (Concord) 4
4. Andy Bey, Ain’t Necessarily So (12th Street) 3
Mark Murphy, Love Is What Stays (Verve) 3

Best Debut Album
1. Tyshawn Sorey, That/Not (Firehouse 12) 11
2. Amir ElSaffar, Two Rivers(Pi) 3

Antonio Sanchez, Migration(Camjazz) 3

Best Latin Album
1. Bobby Sanabria,Big Band Urban Folktales (Jazzheads) 11

2. Paquit o D’Rivera, Funk Tango (Sunnyside) 3

For Best Vocal, Debut, and Latin Jazz albums, critics were asked to name one album apiece, with no point system.

Thanks to all the critics who participated:

David R. Adler, Larry Applebaum, Paul Blair, Larry Blumenfeld, Stuart Broomer, Nate Chinen, Thomas Conrad, Francis Davis, Paul de Barros, Steve Dollar, Laurence Donohue-Greene, Ken Dryden, Steve Feeney, Phil Freeman, David Fricke, Will Friedwald, Kurt Gottschalk, Tom Greenland, David Hajdu, James Hale, Ed Hazell, Don Heckman, Tad Hendrickson, Andrey Henkin, Geoffrey Himes, Tom Hull, Willard Jenkins, Martin Johnson, Ashley Kahn, George Kanzler, Fred Kaplan, Suzanne Lorge, John McDonough, Jim Macnie, Howard Mandel, John Matouk, Bill Milkowski, Dan Morgenstern, Russ Musto, Dan Ouellette, Ted Panken, Thierry Peremarti, Bob Porter, Doug Ramsey, Derk Richardson, Bob Rusch, Gene Seymour, Bill Shoemaker, Slim, Steve Smith, Zan Stewart, Jeff Stockton, W. Royal Stokes, John Szwed, Neil Tesser, George Varga, Josef Woodard, and Ron Wynn.

You can see how they voted here.

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Singing Cool and Hot

Can it be that little more than a decade ago, jazz singing was widely written off as a dead art? No one had come along to take the stages abandoned by Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Carmen McRae, though Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln had survived the wilderness years to reassert their own claims as supreme individualists in an uncrowded field. They in turn influenced many young singers, which was a great relief from that strange period in the ’70s when all black woman singers tried to sound like Aretha and all white woman singers tried to sound like Annie Ross—a trite landscape of unholy melisma and runaway hipsterism. Yet the most gifted singer of the boomer generation, who might have changed all that, Dee Dee Bridgewater, relocated to Paris after a fleeting try at disco and was rarely heard; while the most promising singer of the next generation, Cassandra Wilson, was mired in M-Base science fiction and seemed to consider it a matter of artistic integrity not to connect with her audience.

The subsequent return of Shirley Horn, who’d been away longer than Lincoln and Carter combined, testified to a hunger for words as well as music. Soon we were engulfed in singers, mostly indifferent, but often promising or damned promising. If the ’50s influences predominated, they had been absorbed and transfigured, mitigated by the discovery that rock and its tributaries have been flowing for nearly half a century. Now people are actually arguing about singers again—their affect, hair, and cheesecake as well as repertory, pitch, and style. (I’m focusing on the women, because the men mostly disappoint and I don’t get Kurt Elling.) Say what you will of Diana Krall, but she is about to open at Radio City Music Hall, reminding us that jazz has long depended on singers to popularize it. Abbey Lincoln continues to reign as queen bee, as a forthcoming triptych of concerts at Lincoln Center attests, but center stage is now dominated by Bridgewater and Wilson, who, at long last, have planted themselves squarely at the crossroads. They are matchless performers who sound like nobody else even when paying homage—pantheon singers at a time when many had assumed the pantheon was closed for good.

Significantly, the latter three have played major roles in solving the dilemma usually blamed for the demise of jazz singing: a dearth of new material and a wearing out of the old. No one writes the kinds of songs that fueled the great singers of the pre-rock era, and contemporary pop doesn’t lend itself to balladic or swinging treatments. So Lincoln and Wilson have written their own songs, and Wilson and Bridgewater have additionally added to the repertoire—the former by drawing on blues, rock, and country, the latter by looking to jazz itself and reinvigorating golden-age standards. Last week, both were in town—Wilson at the Blue Note and Bridgewater at Iridium—and hearing them back-to-back suggested the cornucopia of old New York, when a maze of high-priced saloons competed with Sarah, Billie, Peggy, Ella, June, Dinah, Anita, Chris, Della, Lee, Kay, Nancy, and the rest. I mean to say that these two beautiful, exquisitely authoritative women, who could not be more different had they hailed from Jackson and Memphis, which in fact they do, made the skyline glow like Fat City.

Wilson previewed her CD Belly of the Sun (Blue Note, due in March), which was mostly recorded in Mississippi with various guests. At the Blue Note, she had the band heard on most of its tracks—two guitarists, two percussionists, a bassist—and from the first notes of “The Weight,” she radiated pleasure and faith, mining her cello range, enunciating the words, her voice mixed way in front of the ensemble, the better to crest its steady and untroubled waves. But then, at some point, perhaps when “Waters of March” suddenly switched, with nary a second for applause, to “Wichita Lineman,” the set morphed into something like an open rehearsal or party, possibly a reflection of first-night jitters, or of an insouciance bordering on the impulsive.

Navigating from Caetano Veloso (“Little Lion,” recorded for but cut from the album) to original songs (“Cooter Brown,” “Show Me a Love”) to James Taylor (“Only a Dream in Rio”), she stamped them all with her smoked timbre and unfeigned embellishments. Yet the sameness of the ensemble arrangements—despite an incredible array of guitar-family instruments, including mandolin, dobro, and banjo, played by Kevin Breit, and a small forest of percussion instruments played by Cyro Baptista—undermined the drama. At times, one pined for a genuine soloist to spell or interact with her. “Corcovado,” however, which will be on the Japanese edition of the album only, picked up the tempo; and her voice and phrasing were glistening on a medley encore of Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound on My Trail” (from Blue Light ‘Til Dawn) and B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” (slated for but cut from Belly of the Sun), accompanied by guitarist Marvin Sewell for the kind of slow-drag recitation she has made her calling card, rocking way back on her heels and coasting on the resolute backbeat.

The forthcoming album is a contender for best-to-date, assimilating diverse material with disarming ease. The dour “Wichita Lineman” is perhaps the ultimate representation here of the axiom “It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” She slows it down to a mid-afternoon glide, puts the lyric in the third person, and unfolds the story as if were blues. For “Darkness on the Delta,” a 1930s standard popularized by Mildred Bailey and later adopted by New Orleans revivalists and Thelonious Monk, she is backed solely by pianist Boogaloo Ames; a choir of children accompany her on “Waters of March”; India.Arie shares the vocal on her original, “Just Another Parade”; an old friend of Wilson’s, Rhonda Richmond, wrote and plays piano on “Road So Clear,” with Olu Dara on trumpet. She gives a particularly shrewd reading to Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” and closes with the most upbeat and unlikely of Johnson’s delta visions, “Hot Tamales.” Indeed, not unlike “Love and Theft, Belly of the Sun suggests a compendium of American music, specifically that of someone who came of age in the early ’70s, and wasn’t afraid to turn the knob on her radio. Yet almost every piece is made to reflect the singer’s Mississippi roots. It should be a big hit.

Dee Dee Bridgewater is something else again: a consummate entertainer of the old school—funny, ribald, unpredictable, frequently outrageous. No other jazz singer has ever played so exhaustively with her sexuality. Someday one of the ringside patrons she fondles and bats her eyes at is going to keel over dead. And yet she is also one of the hardest-swinging musicians alive, almost relentless in her energy. Accompanied by a trio led by her longtime pianist and organist, Thierry Eliez, she walked out onto the Iridium stage singing the vamp to “All Blues,” and was soon scatting through at least three octaves of her glistening voice, aggressive and gritty, a demonstration of full-frontal id, holding nothing back, her body advancing from body English to dance to near-calisthenics. It was the kind of number the old pros put at the end of a set, because what could follow it? For Bridgewater, it was just an hors d’oeuvre.

If Wilson is laid-back and cool in the belly of the Mississippi sun, Bridgewater, who was born in Memphis but raised in Michigan, is almost always scorching. Having paid wicked homage to Horace Silver and canny respects to Ella Fitzgerald on previous albums (though a better place to start is Live at Yoshi’s), she will devote her next album to Kurt Weill (typical Dee Dee one-liner: “It’s coming . . . and so am I”), and most of her set served as a preview: “September Song,” “Speak Low,” “My Ship,” “This Is New.” She drew on her powerful vibrato to accent the beat in the slow-motion verses, then opened up on the choruses—rising to the top of her range with improvisational crescents that recalled the Dinah Washington who matched high notes with a trinity of trumpet players on Dinah Jams. “We’re a little timid with these songs,” she said, “because we just rehearsed them.” Actually, she was exhausting, and the superbly modulated “My Ship”—a ballad qua ballad—was a gratefully received respite.

Silver’s “Cookin’ at the Continental,” a Bridgewater specialty that didn’t make her Love and Peace album, was more characteristic, taken way up, spotted by a healthy organ solo, but never more vigorous than in the singer’s emphatic drive. Happily, a fan asked her for “Come Sunday,” and, cradled by Ira Coleman’s arco bass, she perched herself on a stool and burnished every note, every syllable; I’ve never heard a more stark and persuasive version, and can’t imagine why she doesn’t settle down more often. From Ellington’s God of love, she snapped into familiar territory (“let’s talk about sex, baby”) with what has become a signature closer that she really would be hard-pressed to follow. Her near literal interpretation of “Love for Sale” is an extended fantasia with autoerotic gestures, dancing, and audience-caressing, and it had half the audience shimmying in its seats. When the lights went up on her 75-minute set, she was still scatting one last chorus. Call it a defiant gesture to prove that jazz singing is still diverse, and still in flower.