A pair of talented out-of-town jazz singers turned up Friday night for virtually simultaneous performances. Chicago's Jackie Allen was up first, via a sparkling performance at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's free, open-air jazz concerts.
Working with the first-rate accompaniment of guitarist Ron Anthony, bassist Tom Warrington and drummer Paul Kreibich, Allen overcame the not especially supportive sound system with a performance that made one wonder why she has not yet achieved greater visibility.
Although the performance was enhanced by her warm, pliable voice and expansive range, Allen's greatest strength was her sheer musicality and the inventive way in which she both framed and interpreted her songs. Up-tempo tunes such as "Cottontail" were delivered with the blithe swing of an instrumental improviser; whimsical numbers such as "Doodlin' " captured the hip insouciance of a Jon Hendricks vocal; and her ballads were the product of interpretations that found an amiable balance between words and music, between storytelling and jazz spontaneity.
Allen also revealed an admirable willingness to explore and add new material to the familiar jazz lexicon. Her version of Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" was an intriguing look at a song that departed from familiar canons, both harmonically and structurally. And "One Mint Julep," with its pop and blues connotations, emerged with distinct jazz credentials.
Across town, at the Jazz Spot in Los Feliz, New York's Diane Hubka worked with a strictly string-based ensemble--John Pisano and Jim Fox on guitars and Chuck Berghofer on bass.
The sweet-toned timbres of Hubka's voice and the coolly articulate qualities of her interpretations were precisely right for a program that moved easily from whimsical Bob Dorough tunes to standards and bossa novas.
She was less effective on rhythm numbers, especially during several relatively lightweight efforts at scat singing. Nor was she especially aided by the opening set uncertainties that accompany inadequate rehearsal time. (This was her first visit to Los Angeles and first opportunity to work with these players.) But Hubka clearly has potential, and it will be interesting to hear whether a follow-up performance--with Pisano and Berghofer--at Lunaria on Thursday night offers a more thorough view of her skills.