It’s been seven years since Judi Silvano served up an all-standards platter. And though intermediary projects included her stellar teaming with Mal Waldron on Riding a Zephyr and the fine salute to female songwriters and musicians Women’s Work, it’s great to hear her take-no-prisoners approach applied to a fresh baker’s dozen of sturdy chestnuts. On this 10th album in 20 years, Silvano leaves delicacy and coyness to lesser songbirds, tackling these tunes with the might and finesse of a world-class boxer. Those not used to such sugar-free directness might at first find her a little off-putting; closer listening will reveal a depth of emotional honesty and perceptiveness that few can match.
Working with her regular trio mates, pianist Peter Tomlinson and trumpeter Fred Jacobs, Silvano remains true to the album’s title across a refreshingly forthright “You’ve Changed,” a multihued “If You Could See Me Now” and a stark “You Don’t Know What Love Is” that is a brilliant exercise in naked despair. Even selections traditionally given sunnier readings—“But Beautiful,” “If I Had You,” “It Only Happens When I Dance With You,” “Let’s Fall in Love”—are tempered with caution, their lyrical hopefulness undercut by loneliness lurking at their edges. Particularly arresting is her restless meander through a densely fogged “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” teetering between dream and nightmare. And there is a 14th track that, straying slightly from the Great American Songbook, finds Silvano swirling through a funhouse—or madhouse, or perhaps both—constructed of Monk’s “Still We Dream.”