The humor, the childlike voice, the presentation overflowing with charm — those are the givens of a Blossom Dearie performance, all too infrequent in L.A. The subtle delight here was an interpretation of Jobim’s “Wave” that captured the sway intended by the great Brazilian composer, rejecting overblown American bossa nova cliches that tend to hammer the sultry tune (there is no “Tidal” in the title) rather than let it cascade.
Dearie offered a hint of Jobim inspiration in “Inside a Silent Ear” earlier in the gently cast evening, turning it into one of those special moments of introspection in which the humor machine is turned off. A beguiling “I Won’t Dance” and the sentimental “Be My Country Boy” worked to similar effect; a sterling “If I Were a Bell” from “Guys and Dolls” closed the nearly two-hour show.
But the main draw remains the twisted lyrics Dearie delivers wide-eyed and knowingly: Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch”; Dave Frishberg’s tale of indulgence, “Peel Me a Grape”; the drag-queen-in-fashion-peril tale “Bruce”; and Frishberg’s “My Attorney Bernie,” a song she performed in 1995 at the White House for the Clintons. The bassist Jim Hughart (who provided Tom Waits with a jazzy edge on his early albums) and drummer Louis Peralta were stellar throughout, and their laughter provided a quick read on the endless shelf-life of her humor.
A leading lady of the Gotham piano bar scene in the 1950s, Dearie flashes the occasional jazz tendency, even taking a piano solo, yet she is uniformly bound to melody and lyricism. Dearie, in her 70s, remains a stalwart of tradition cradling the innocence of a spring bloom. Her niche spans continents thanks to her never conceding to a trend or fad, the evidence resting in the 17 Dearie releases on the Daffodil label she founded more than two decades ago. And those are telling portraits of one sharp American legend.