Phyllis Hyman's show at Blues Alley is polished, but it isn't slick. Hyman is simply too outgoing a performer to let that happen. She'd just as soon sit down at a table and chat for a while with the audience, as she did last night, as belt out a song. By sheer force of personality as much as anything else, she keeps her show fresh and delightfully informal.
Of course, it helps that her confidence is well founded. Dark and sumptuous, her voice is not only well suited to the romantic ballads she's always favored, it's also limber enough to skip effortlessly over the Caribbean rhythms her quartet hammers out so vigorously.
Her Cuban-born percussionist, Myra Caseles, is particularly adept at keeping Hyman on her toes, charging tunes like "Ain't You Had Enough Love" with a relentlessly festive beat.
In the end, though, it's the ballads that stand out most, partly because Hyman knows how to bring a strong sense of drama to her songs, and partly because lyrics like those in "Living Alone" and "You Just Don't Know" are powerful in their own right.
Hyman is at Blues Alley through Sunday.