When velvet-voiced baritone Andy Bey released last year’s ravishing Shades of Bey (Evidence), he overcame the second-biggest obstacle on his road back to grace after two decades of obscurity: he proved that Ballads, Blues & Bey, the 1996 album announcing his return, hadn’t been a fluke. Even those of us who fondly remember his work from the 70s never saw this one coming. Although Bey first made his name in a trio with his two sisters, one of whom is Chicago vocalist and jazz activist Geraldine de Haas, his greatest fame had come from working on several widely discredited Horace Silver albums of the early 70s–albums that were, until Ballads broke, his biggest obstacle. During the fusion years Silver saddled his relentlessly hummable songs with preachy lyrics about clean living and inner growth, raising the bile of his fans; many of them would forever identify Andy Bey as the music’s voice, and some even seemed to blame Bey for those records. That makes his coup of the 90s–racking up two critically acclaimed albums, after years of accompanying himself at the piano in New York jazz boites–all the sweeter. Bey seems to project his voice from way back in his throat, which gives it a sort of distant intimacy, like the faraway warmth of a French horn or bassoon. But his timbre–dark, deep, and plush–has the richness of a cello, and he uses it to plumb emotional depths that few singers even acknowledge. Most important, Bey sings without fear. He doesn’t shrink from slowing a ballad down to a hibernal pulse, so it can surround his listeners instead of merely reaching them; he confidently hits falsetto notes, stretching the conventional notion of suave virility; and his speedy scat solos reclaim the idiom from too many younger poseurs. Remarkably, he appears this week for no cover charge, making his gig a better bargain than Field Days. Friday and Saturday, 9:30 PM, Plaza Tavern, 70 W. Monroe; 312-977-1940. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.