Singer and keyboardist Judy Roberts has always displayed eclectic taste on her recordings, using both acoustic and electric instruments and drawing on a variety of pop, rock and jazz styles for inspiration. The results, by and large, have been interesting but uneven. Happily, Roberts' current album "Trio" is a change for the better. Not only is this her first strictly acoustic jazz album, it's also the first of her recordings to present her with two seasoned jazz musicians -- bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jeff Hamilton. The difference is immediately evident. Brown's tune "Soft Shoe," for instance, is everything the title implies. Hamilton's brushes tread lightly on the cymbals, Brown elegantly unfurls his bass lines and Roberts scat sings with cool assurance. The same easy yet uncommon rapport distinguishes several other performances: The brisk and whimsical "Late Late Show" is a fine vehicle for Roberts' airy, agile vocals; "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" finds both pianist and bassist thinking alike and thoroughly enjoying each other's company; and for an example of how Roberts complements a familiar lyric with a sensitive piano arrangement, listen to her poignant version of "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." Who knows. "Trio" may be the album that finally brings this Chicago-based musician a little of the exposure and recognition she deserves.
JUDY ROBERTS -- "Trio" (Pausa PR 7147); appearing at Cates Restaurant, Tuesday through Sunday through September 27.