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Issue 604 : April 26, 2007 - May 2, 2007

Album review
JUDY BARNETT: TOO DARN HOT! (Montserrat)

4 stars

From 1985 to 1993, the Upper West Side had a cozy haven for jazz lovers: J’s, a second-story club with bare brick walls and a living-room warmth. A night there was an almost guaranteed good time, and much of the fun stemmed from “J” herself: Judy Barnett, a salt-of-the-earth jazz singer. Every few weeks she entertained with her hearty megaphone voice; in between she presented Mark Murphy, Chris Connor, guitarist Frank Vignola and countless others who loved J’s, and her. A real-estate tax hike eventually forced Barnett out, and ever since, she has been lost in the cabaret world—no place for a real jazz artist, but a refuge for a lot of fake ones.

On her fourth album,
Too Darn Hot!, Barnett’s no-frills, distinctively nasal delivery is the sound of truth. She swings hard, while her klieg-light diction illuminates every phrase. Like Ella Fitzgerald and Helen Humes, Barnett sings with a smile; her new CD, a salute to spring and summer, bursts with the unflappable good humor that helped her endure eight years of running a saloon. Here she treats herself to a high-powered big band arranged by trumpeter Bud Burridge; its members include Vignola and a drummer, Joe Ascione, who helps keep everything from “Bali H’ai” to “Summer in the City” jumping. Occasionally, as in “April in Paris,” Barnett turns a bit wistful. More typically, she socks ’em out in a mood of celebration, with blue skies overhead.—James Gavin

Judy Barnett plays Smoke Jun 22 and 23.