Moonlighting once again from the Manhattan Transfer, with whom she has chalked up a quarter century-plus career, Janis Siegel’s one-night solo turn demonstrated clean precision vocalizing and a firmly focused dedication to the standards. Celebrating the release of her new Monarch CD “The Tender Trap,” Siegel illustrated the wistful bliss of romance with a bright and varied program, keenly balanced from the Gershwins to Lennon and McCartney.
The singer’s jaunty take on the Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Huesen film tune “The Tender Trap” seemed to be overaccented by the explosive drum rolls and flashy breaks by Matt Wilson, but Siegel’s reading was marked with playful appeal. Much more tender was a plaintive reading of “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” complemented by a serenely tasteful piano interlude by Fred Hersch.
Having fun with surprising tempo changes appears to be a marked choice, as witnessed by a sultry “That Old Black Magic,” which suddenly turned into a dizzying spiraling finale.
Admitting an aversion to the thematic programs so many singers are locked into these days, Siegel declared she was the evening’s theme, but not without serving the Duke Ellington centennial in a small way. Billy Strayhorn’s “Something to Live For” turned out to be one of her most plaintive musical statements, and for “What Am I to You?,” she was joined by guest trumpeter Lew Soloff. The latter, using a wine glass for his mute, offered an inspired witty, gritty and growling solo.
Displaying her developing talents and firm roots as a jazz singer, Siegel’s scatting intro and exchange with bassist Reid Anderson, opened Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot,” which segued into a wordless duet finale with drummer Wilson, this time sans sticks for a tasteful hands-on-only approach. Hersch balanced the entire program with imaginative and colorful piano statements.
There was much to savor in Siegel’s smart and diverse program, though it fell short of emotional involvement until her encore of Bob Dorough’s “Love Came on Stealthy Fingers.” She drew the listener into her web for the finale and it felt warm and comforting.
Siegel performs two shows on Sept. 27 at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City.