One of the more inventive bookings in New York clubs is the Jazz Standard’s “Voices and Songs,” a Monday night, bargain-price ($15) series designed to bring attention to new, neglected, and otherwise below-radar singers. The December lineup was characteristic, if a bit more prominent than usual. It included Alma Micic, who moved to New York from Belgrade five years ago and has developed a quartet that mixes Ellington with traditional Serbian song; Teri Roiger, whose quintet, involving tap dancer Brenda Buffalino and pianist Frank Kimbrough, presented a “Billy Strayhorn Project”; Kendra Shank, one of New York’s most original and underrecorded performers, whose repertory ranges from old folk ballads to Abbey Lincoln; and—on a cold night made colder still by the transit strike—Denise Jannah, making an all-too-rare stateside appearance after a busy European tour.
I had not heard Jannah in several years, but we do go back. In the early 1990s, I devoted a column to her CD Take It From the Top (Timeless), one of those unexpected pleasures that reviewers occasionally find when desperately searching for something new. Jannah was certainly that: an English-language singer born in Surinam but living, acting, singing and teaching in Holland. I was much taken with her distinctive contralto, at once husky and sweet; her smart choice of material and melodic embellishments; and her ease with tricky time signatures. My review, however, was hardly a rave: encouraging, yes, but also picky, cautious and disapproving of her accompanists.