Dee Dee Bridgewater: Live at Yoshi’s

As anyone who has witnessed her will attest, Dee Dee Bridgewater is a spellbinding live performer. Having distinguished herself in jazz, musical theater and FM disco-funk, she’s become a one-woman talent conglomerate-singer, actress, dancer and mimic. Live at Yoshi’s, cut in April 1998 in Oakland, CA, is her finest recording to date, brimming with energy, warmth and humor. Highlights include a delightful duet interlude with bassist Thomas Bramerie on “Undecided,” Bridgewater’s startling muted trumpet and trombone imitations on “Stairway to the Stars,” an affectionately daffy send-up of Ella Fitzgerald singing a James Brown tune, a dreamy “Midnight Sun” and a freewheeling scat version of “Cotton Tail.” (The CD would be even more effective without the long patter introduction to “Slow Boat to China,” which becomes tiresome after one hearing, and the singer’s vamping of an audience member during the 14-minute “Love for Sale,” which has the crowd in stitches but makes no sense if you can’t see what’s going on.) Bridgewater’s trio, also featuring pianist/organist Thierry Eliez and percussionist Ali Jackson, provide her with the alert, inspiring support. Accomplished as she is, Bridgewater still hasn’t found a stylistic identity of her own. Each of the nine tracks contains echoes of her musical forebearers, notably Ella’s scatting, Sarah Vaughan’s note bending and Carmen McRae’s incisive delivery of lyrics. Perhaps Bridgewater has so generously extended her gifts in so many areas that she hasn’t had time to concentrate on forging her own persona. If she ever does, she’ll become a jazz legend.