When it comes to maneuvering the tightrope between jazz and cabaret singing, few do it more gracefully than Weslia Whitfield. In her performances, she offers listeners a highly personal tour of the museum of American popular song, gathering them in front of classic Porters and Gershwins--reframed by lustrous arrangements--but also sneaking them down to the basement to see forgotten gems and newly acquired portraits. In this program of what she correctly describes as "wildly romantic songs," she sings the verse on almost every one, and better yet, she doesn't make a big deal out of doing so. And though she doesn't scat or offer vivid revisions of the written melody or deconstruct a song a la Betty Carter, Whitfield's jazz credentials are evident nonetheless. Her flexible phrasing has an unaffected warmth, and when she chooses to depart from the script--with a displaced note or a hearty glide across the octave--she frees herself from the constraints of cabaret instantly and convincingly. Her voice mixes smoke and sugar in roughly the same proportion as the best bourbons. Her delivery, even her diction, fit the material perfectly: a lifelong resident of northern California, she has the slight western drawl that the movies have certified as all-American, and she glides past a tricky diphthong with the panache of Fred Astaire. And her impish sense of humor serves as a translucent mask: it almost, but not quite, covers up the vulnerability of her music. Whitfield has made ten albums (including the newly released Teach Me Tonight, on High Note) and enjoyed successful stints in New York, but this is her Chicago debut; it finds her in the company of her fine pianist, Mike Greensill (also her husband), and the versatile Chicago bassist Eric Hochberg. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, and next Friday and Saturday, June 6 and 7, 9 and 11 PM, Toulouse Cognac Bar, 2140 Lincoln Park West; 773-665-9071. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Russell Ward.