Kimberly Gordon returns to Chicago in her first local performance since the young vocalist left to soak up the sounds in New York a couple years ago–allowing us a chance to see just how far she’s come since we heard her last. Gordon thinks like a musician, but instead of giving overheated scat improvisations (as so many do), she applies her skillful phrasing and solid swing to the melodies as written. This approach showcases her round, dusky, indigo voice, which–especially in its throaty bottom notes–operates in a range similar to Ella Fitzgerald’s. (Gordon exploits this similarity, but not by modeling herself after Ella; she takes her cues from the great songstress and uses them in her own exploration of such musical issues as balance, taste, and musicality.) Just in terms of her vocal quality, Gordon has a jewel of an instrument: if sapphires could sing, I imagine they’d sound like this. She couldn’t find a better setting than the trio led by Chris Foreman, a savvy and even occasionally provocative purveyor of the classic organ-combo sound. I heard Gordon work with Foreman a couple years ago, with the warm soul sounds of the band providing a luxurious cushion for the vocalist. What’s more, the trio itself thrummed with a pulse that most organ combos would love to bottle. These days Foreman features Jeff Parker in the band, offering yet another facet of this young, thoughtful, and exceedingly versatile guitarist (best known these days for his participation in the AACM’s New Horizons Ensemble). They perform as part of the 18th Annual Jazz Institute of Chicago Jazz Fair. Monday, 6:30 PM, Bismarck Hotel, 171 W. Randolph; 427-1676. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.