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Judi D.: Nightshade

While there are plenty of jazz survivors-indomitable artists thriving in their 70s and 80s-Miami-based Judith Dubowsky can proudly claim that survival opened her path to a jazz career. Diagnosed with thyroid cancer just over a year ago, left with “three notes, my whole range was gone,” and vowing to rebuild her voice, she underwent three years of therapy, enrolled in the University of Miami to earn a Master of Music degree and began intense study of the great female jazz singers. Now, supported by an enviable rhythm section comprised of pianist Kenny Barron, drummer Leroy Williams, bassist Ray Drummond and, doubling on tenor sax and flute, Frank Wess, she has released her debut album.

That Dubowsky is a superb student is evident throughout these ten standards and one original (the heartfelt “Small Feats” that traces her road to recovery and vocal revitalization). Her style borrows heavily from Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae and Diana Krall; her phrasing owes a huge debt to Rosemary Clooney (particularly on the disc-opening “Tenderly”). But there’s much more to Dubowsky than mere mimicry. She handles Ellington’s hugely challenging “Sophisticated Lady” with just the right combination of refracted pain, misty disillusion and judgmental disdain. Her “Up Jumped Spring,” superbly underlined by Wess’ sax, effectively blends unexpected pleasure and thankful satisfaction. Best track: a loose-limbed “All of Me,” crafted in homage to King Pleasure, that boldly displays the marvelously imaginative spirit of the unfettered Judi.

Originally Published