Banu Gibson was born in Ohio, but her heart and soul are in New Orleans. So much so, in fact, that her singing is an impressive representation of the formidable spirit of survival present in the Crescent City since its catastrophic encounter with Hurricane Katrina last summer.
On Sunday night at the Jazz Bakery, Gibson made one of her relatively rare -- and far too brief -- Southland appearances, performing with her six-piece New Orleans Hot Jazz ensemble.
From the perspective of traditional New Orleans jazz, the music was lively and to the point, the front-line horn section of cornetist Randy Reinhart, saxophonist-clarinetist Tom Fischer and trombonist David Sager swinging with ease, firmly supported by the rhythm team of pianist David Boedinghaus, drummer James Alsanders and bassist Richard Simon.
But everything they did -- even the fine soloing -- ultimately served as framework and setting for Gibson's vocalizing (and occasional guitar strumming). Her singing and between-song patter combined in an engaging blend of sterling musicianship and a whimsical sense of humor. Gibson's name rarely appears on the lists of top vocalists in various jazz polls. And that's unfortunate, since the sound, substance and originality of her singing easily place her among the very best in the genre.
A powerful advocate of the music from the '20s through the '40s, Gibson concocted a program that affirmed the extraordinary musical and lyrical quality of songs from the period. She paid particularly strong attention to Cole Porter, including classics such as "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" and "It's De-Lovely."