Betty Carter, at Blues Alley though Sunday, is the strikingly original link between the singing and the playing of jazz melodies. Her approach is hornlike, with fluid (and frequently perverse) melodic lines marked by springly octave leaps astounding variations in pitch and tempo and the merciless bending of notes to an ultimately sensuous purpose.

Carter, equally at home with a bop or ballad base, utilizes her astounding range to evoke the most personal aspects of the lyrics, whether it's a warhorse like "My favorite Things" or her own wry originals. Her unpredictable attack is built on the resonant tensions in her lower register. Integrating herself into a fine trio led by Khalid Moss, Carter caressed the lyric lines, paying needed attention to the intervals and frequently scatting with deliberate abandon.

A singer of less authority could easily flounder in the turbulent waters Carter stirs up, but she is an agile as she is precise.Her warmth and wit, displayed physically as well as musically, contribute to her dynamic individualism. The lady is a champ. Were she a saxophonist, she'd be a poll winner. Instead she's one of the few figures deserving of the cult status she's enjoyed for almost three decades.