Blossom Dearie sings grown-up songs in a little girl's voice, but you never get confused about which persona's in charge: every aspect of her performance, from the patient tempos to the immaculate phrasing, reveals the sophisticated tale-teller beneath the innocent sweetness. Her voice may conjure peaches and cream, but Dearie uses subtle inflections to play off that image, and to quietly subvert it when the lyrics demand. That's why, when she sings the melody she wrote for "Peel Me a Grape," she can so perfectly capture the coy manipulativeness at the heart of Dave Frishberg's lyrics. It's the reason she can so perfectly emphasize the key words in the lyrics of Lorenz Hart and Cole Porter--writers with whom she shares a wry wit and unflappable urbanity--or ward off the incipient sentimentality of a tune called "Country Boy." Remarkably, Dearie is a certified senior citizen, something you could guess only from the tiny cracks in her nearly 70-year-old pipes: a split tone here, a less than perfectly pitched high note over there. But Dearie's success has never depended on vocal gymnastics or extraordinary range or powerful projection--all those things that can get very shaky with the passing years. In fact it's uncanny how little her sound has changed since her first recordings in the 1950s. She knows exactly what she can do, and unlike some of her cabaret colleagues, she doesn't try to expand the intimate arena of a nightclub with musical scenery chewing. Instead, she brings the walls in closer, with small but telling vocal gestures and jazzman's cool; then she cements her jazz credentials in the lightly swinging lilt of her rhythms and the spare piano chords with which she accompanies herself. (Having the painterly Chicago bassist Eddie de Haas in her trio doesn't hurt, either.) Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, Yvette Wintergarden, 311 S. Wacker; 312-408-1242. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marcelo Maia-NYC.