Chiara Civello’s entree into the jazz vocal realm has been marked less by fireworks than by a slow, simmering heat. At this, the de facto release party for her Verve debut Last Quarter Moon, the Italian expatriate was positively radiant when she followed suit, allowing her voice to give off a low blue flame — but got palpably singed when she dipped too deep into vocal pyrotechnics.
A gifted enough songwriter to draw Burt Bacharach into collaborating on “Trouble” — presented here in all its fretful-but-flirty splendor — Civello draws heavily on Brazilian and Latin motifs. She puts that influence to best use on breathy, humid ballads like “Here Is Everything,” a Gilberto-styled wisp of a tune that gathered emotional momentum as Civello unrolled her laundry list of romantic regrets.
“The Wrong Goodbye,” a barroom elegy of sorts, was similarly poignant, its shimmering piano backdrop offering a precise mirror for Civello’s film-noir-inflected lyric. When her quartet picked up the pace, however, the easy elegance she naturally exudes gave way to a harsh brassiness that pushed “Ora” to the brink of hysteria.
Civello’s occasional tendency to overreach — to sing to the last rows of the balcony in a club that doesn’t even have one — might’ve been attributable to nerves. Once she settled in and got a sense of just how much stage she was working with, her tone regained its burnished patina, as evidenced by a lovely, partially a capella rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “In France They Kiss on Main Street” that proved to be one of the set’s highlights.
Civello performs at Symphony Space in New York City on March 22.