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Paula West: Live at Jazz Standard

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Paula West is, quite simply, the finest jazz-cabaret singer around. All of her albums deserve pride of place in any discerning listener’s library. That there have only been four, in a recording career that spans a decade and a half, is indicative of how shockingly undervalued she is, as is the fact that she has never been signed to a major label. Rather than lament the paucity, better to celebrate that at long last there’s a new addition-her first since 2001. It’s also the first to capture the vibrancy of West’s live performances.

Taking the stage at Manhattan’s Jazz Standard with a quartet led by the late pianist George Mesterhazy, West recalls the days when nightclub sets could be truly transporting. Her voice as dark and rich as molasses, her penchant for preternaturally sustained notes undeterred, she opens with a 10-minute “Baltimore Oriole” of incomparably chilling brilliance. Exercising her typically eclectic taste, she shapes a playlist that extends from Dylan (astute readings of “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Don’t Think Twice”) and Jimmy Webb (a positively majestic “Wichita Lineman”) to an inky rendering of Lil Green’s “Romance in the Dark” and a storm-clouded “Where Flamingoes Fly” that alone demonstrates why she so often earns comparisons to Ella, Sarah and Carmen.

And West remains the most generous of performers, leaving plenty of space for Mesterhazy, guitarist Ed Cherry, bassist Barak Mori and drummer Jerome Jennings to stretch out. Each responds with exquisite solos, all exceptional extensions of her incomparable craftsmanship.

Originally Published