MARLENA Shaw's latest, "It Is Love," is a spicily idiosyncratic live set, recorded at Vine St. Bar and Grill in Hollywood. Shaw is known as a jazz interpreter -- she once fronted the Count Basie Orchestra and was the first female artist signed to the prestigious Blue Note jazz label -- but her voice was clearly schooled in blues and gospel idioms. It's a coarse-textured, long-lived-in voice, sounding at its best like raw silk tearing.
The intimately recorded "It Is Love" conveys the loose, near-spontaneous, downtown feeling of a live performance, with Shaw backed by a trio led by Buddy Montgomery on electric piano. The set opens with an upbeat "Day In-Day Out," with Shaw changing the shape of sounds like a slide trombone. The singer inserts sassy asides between the lines, and builds a natural segue between her conversational versions of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" and "That's Life." Shaw remodels two familiar show tunes, Lerner and Loewe's "On The Street Where You Live" and Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might As Well Be Spring" -- the word "spring," in Shaw's handling, works out to about 11 syllables.
The showpiece is Shaw's transformation of the Goffin-King '60s bubblegum hit "Go Away Little Boy" into a very adult item. Most of the nine-minute workout is taken up by Shaw's very personal and funny lead-in monologue, quite similar to the kind of lead-in raps favored by Isaac Hayes and Millie Jackson.
MARLENA SHAW -- "It Is Love" (Verve 831-438). Appearing through Sunday at Blues Alley.