On each of the dozen numbers of her first set last night at Blues Alley, vocalist Helen Humes demonstrated anew what she proved four decades ago with the Count Basie band: that she can shape a melody as a horn does and that her sense of rhythm is perfect.
Humes presented some pieces as the specialties of others, and then made them her own. On Billie Holiday's "Lover Man" she was gentle, almost wispy, and on Bessie Smith's "Nobody Wants You When You're Down and Out" she declaimed an intro and then shouted her way out. "I Can't Believe You're in Love With Me" was full of sun and good cheer, her voice at times a fourth instrument to her trio.
Pianist Gerald Wiggins has done keyboard duty with Louis Armstrong, Lena Horne, Harry James and even Spike Jones. A sensitive accompanist, he is also a strong soloist, moving with ease from single-note trumpet lines to avalanche-like runs interspersed with the merest suggestions of quotes from other songs.
Bertell Knox at the drums never missed a cue or a beat. Bassist Steve Novosel fulfilled his rhythmic responsibilities with characteristic precision and made strong melodic contributions as well.
Helen Humes continues at Blues Alley through Sunday.