Paula West
(© Pauline Tajchman)
Paula West
(© Pauline Tajchman)
Fall has found the incomparable jazz singer Paula West in a remarkably expansive mood. Her consistently surprising and wonderful new cabaret act at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room is practically guaranteed to put a smile on your face and keep it there.

If the seats in the Oak Room weren't quite so cozy, the entire room would be up and dancing during her joyous yet soulful take on the Cajun classic "Iko Iko." She turns Cole Porter's "You've Got That Thing" into a bravura celebration of true love discovered, while her rendition of the composer's "Nobody's Chasing Me" -- a song that can be interpreted as a one-person pity party -- is done with good-natured brio. There's not even a hint of anger in her version of Bob Dylan's anti-slavery paean "Maggie's Farm," only a declaration of independence.

West is blessed with an extremely expressive voice and the ability to connect musically and emotionally to a variety of styles, qualities that serve her particularly well in this engagement. She takes songs as disparate as Simon & Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song," Hoagy Carmichael's "Bread and Water," and Rodgers & Hart's "My Romance," and finds a unique tone for each that makes you wonder if you've ever heard them before.

One of the reasons to see West in her annual New York engagement -- and this year's is no exception -- is to be introduced to songs you might not know. I immediately fell in love with both Lil Green's sultry "Romance in the Dark," and "Where Flamingos Fly," a gorgeously torchy tune by Harold Courlander, El Thea, and John B. Brooks that was recorded by Peggy Lee, and will relish the opportunity to hear them again.