Philly-based vocalist Denise King was doing just fine with her late-blooming career as a lush, soulful interpreter of standards. Then she met French pianist-arranger-composer Olivier Hutman. They initially teamed a dozen years ago in Paris, but it was their delayed reunion in late 2009 that proved the catalyst for King’s advancement to a richer, more rewarding level of artistry. After a couple of European tours, King and Hutman united with bassist Daryl Hall, drummer Steve Williams and saxophonist Olivier Temime to record No Tricks. Under Hutman’s influence, King was transformed, unleashing a looser, more multifaceted sound that suggests Tina Turner by way of Cassandra Wilson, with a hint of smooth Sade sophistication.
Working with the same stellar lineup augmented by trumpeter Stéphane Belmondo, King outdoes herself with Give Me the High Sign. Again there are several stunning standards, including exceptional renditions of “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “Blame It on My Youth” and “Day Dream,” and an understatedly powerful reading of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Save the Children.” More interesting, though, is the potpourri of Hutman compositions, three featuring King lyrics. Venturing from the layered bleakness of “I Lost My Way,” bruised wisdom of “Mellow Mellow” and sassy kiss-off of “Don’t Overact” to the tally of social ills that is “What Did They Say Today?,” King brings her Hutman-ignited sea change to magnificent fruition.