Nnenna Freelon
Nnenna Freelon
At the beginning of Nnenna Freelon's new show, Lena: A Lovesome Thing, her wonderful tribute to Lena Horne now at Feinstein's at Loews Regency, she says of the legendary performer, "She was a beautiful woman…but there was a little salt and vinegar there, too."

The description might well apply to Freelon herself. The six-time Grammy nominated jazz vocalist combines a gorgeous voice with supple phrasing that brings unexpected astringency to her material. While emotional expressiveness occasionally suffers at the hands of her accomplished technique, the performer consistently beguiles.

Reminiscent of Sarah Vaughn in her vocal virtuosity, Freelon exercises her jazz chops in this loving appreciation: singing a cappella, scatting like a muted trumpet, and bending the melodies in unexpected ways. For example, "The Very Thought of You" is sung with the hushed intimacy of a private conversation. Normally pensive songs like "Misty" and Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" are rendered in swinging, uptempo fashion.

Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's gorgeous "Skylark," performed only with bass accompaniment, is done as a slinky vamp, while "I Feel Pretty," complete with a forced male sing-along, receives the playful treatment it deserves. There are times when she overreaches: a gorgeous melody like "Moon River," for instance, hardly needs the distracting embellishments she provides.

If Freelon's voice isn't enough to entrance you, her body language certainly will. Her arms and hands dance about in energetic accompaniment to the music, as if she's bending her notes in the air.

The music's subtle arrangements perfectly show off the skills of her expert back-up trio consisting of Brandon McCune (piano), Wayne Batchelor (bass) and Adonis Rose (drums), whose restrained solos add to the evening's subtle intensity.

The final number is, unsurprisingly, "Stormy Weather," which Freelon performs with a triumphant power that would have made Lena Horne herself proud.