JULIE KELLY

"Kelly Sings

Christy -- Thou Swell"

CMG

"Kelly Sings Christy -- Thou Swell," Julie Kelly's homage to the late jazz singer Julie Christy, is pretty swell itself -- sultry and swinging by turns. Yet the title of the CD doesn't even hint at the pleasure to be found in listening to the arrangements crafted by pianist Tom Garvin. If you were to strip away Kelly's vocals, as enjoyable and evocative as they are, Garvin's handiwork would still provide sufficient reason to punch the "repeat" button and listen for a few hours.

As a result, when Kelly's talent isn't on display here, her taste is, thanks to Garvin's mostly mid-size ensemble orchestrations. From the moment the horns enter on "There's No You," repeatedly rising and falling in jaunty cadences, it's clear that Kelly is keeping good company. And it isn't long before several members of the band, including trumpeter Stacy Rowles and saxophonist-flutist Pete Christlieb, are lacing arrangements with solos that complement both the singer and the songs.

Kelly, a veteran and largely overlooked jazz singer, is careful not to overplay her hand here by idly imitating Christy's throaty delivery. Instead she's fashioned a sincere tribute that evokes memories of Christy's moody balladry -- the gin and rue reflections ("Something Cool") as well as the enticing invitations ("Lazy Afternoon") and moody blues ("Lonely House"). She also handily reprises tunes that are vibrantly recast by Garvin (an Afro-Caribbean take on Irving Berlin's "The Best Thing for You" being a prime example) and revisits songs not heard nearly enough these days, such as Alec Wilder's pastoral enchantment "It's So Peaceful in the Country."

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Tuesday at Blues Alley. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Julie Kelly, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8103. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)