Sometimes circumstances dictate the mood of a jazz performance. For example, with Blues Alley more than half-empty Monday night, singer Melissa Walker had little choice but to approach her opening set as if it were a cozy recital for a few friends.

Fortunately, Walker possesses a sultry and soulful voice capable of casting an extended spell. She began with a series of romantic ballads that displayed her considerable interpretive skills as well as her flair for underscoring heartfelt emotions with subtle melismatic flourishes. Initially, the show's pacing was slow, but not sluggish, and in time Walker revealed other dimensions of her talent as a singer and songwriter. With great charm and ease, she pulled off an extremely tricky arrangement of the Horace Silver-Jon Hendricks tune "Come On Home," saluted the late vocalist Betty Carter with an appropriately fanciful treatment of "If I Should Lose You," and performed two sections of a highly personalized tribute she recently co-wrote and recorded in honor of John Coltrane.

From the outset, it was clear that Walker was accompanied by three musicians with whom she has a close rapport--pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Clarence Penn. While the trio couldn't fully compensate for the absence of reed and string instruments that grace Walker's fine new album, "Moment of Truth," it nevertheless succeeded in crafting a series of complementary arrangements that incorporated everything from shimmering orchestral shadings to strutting soul-jazz.