It seems only appropriate that Judy Niemack spends a significant amount of her time teaching, for there isn’t anyone—whether jazz neophyte or veteran—who can’t learn from her. Like fellow vocalist-cum-educator Tierney Sutton, Niemack represents jazz singing at its finest and most accomplished. Throughout her two-decade career, she has consistently bordered on flawless, yet she’s never become mannered or predictable.
Her latest, a 12-track homage to the various moods and sentiments associated with the color blue, is at once a sublime testament to her long-established musical prowess and an utterly refreshing exercise in interpretive brilliance.
Niemack navigates everything from a hard-swinging “Moanin’” to a bossa-infused “Blue In Green,” a perky “Bluesette” and a simmering “Afro Blue” with uniform finesse. Her reading of Joni Mitchell’s “Blue” is a supreme study in soul-searching ache. She can write, as brilliantly illustrated by lyrics she here fits to Bill Evans’ “Interplay” and Monk’s “Misterioso” (aptly re-dubbed “A Crazy Song to Sing”). She understands, as too few vocalists do, the subtlety of scat, knowing that its effect is most powerful when used not just intelligently but also sparingly.
And, most important of all, she appreciates, as all truly great jazz singers do, that her union with bandmates Jeanfrançois Prins (whose dazzling guitar work is equaled by his arrangements of 11 of the 12 tracks), pianist Jim McNeely, bassist Dennis Irwin and drummer Victor Lewis, plus alternating guests Don Sickler (trumpet and flügelhorn) and saxophonist Gary Bartz, must be a seamless exercise in mutual trust and respect.