You could pick and choose last night at Blues Alley. Julia and Co., an impromptu ensemble of local musicians, offered everything, it seemed, from eminently forgettable pop-jazz to sultry and sassy blues to boisterous sing-alongs and then some.
The biggest disappointment came early in the form of two colorless arrangements of sweet nothings, including "Love Is in the Air." It was a lackluster start to be sure, but Julia McGirt turned things around fast.
A gifted singer with an impressive range both vocally and stylistically, McGirt stepped on stage with her tambourine and quickly lit a gospel fire under the Motown tune "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." There were times throughout her performance when McGirt sounded just like Dionne Warwick, particularly on the less strenuous ballads. Other times her phrasing seemed more flexible. On Ellington's swing classic "It Don't Mean a Thing," for example, she worked beautifully in tandem with the rhythm section: pianist David Ylvisaker, bassist Stan Sargeant and drummer Steve Williams.
Unfortunately, the fine saxophonist Marshall Keys didn't get a chance to make much of a contribution during the opening set. He did manage to brighten one tune, but his talent is deserving of much more exposure.