When Carol Sloane sings, she connects inspiration and respiration: it’s as if she were exhaling music. As effortlessly as she draws breath, Sloane imbues a tune with a lifetime of nuance, relying on flawless intonation to sell both the original melody and her gentle but welcome departures from it. Her voice has not only smoke but substance, a combination that has distinguished a lot of the great jazz singers–think of Billie Holiday or Sarah Vaughan–and has made Sloane, who never learned to read music, a musicians’ favorite since the early 60s, when she occasionally subbed for Annie Ross in Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. (Although she long ago abandoned the demanding vocalese popularized by that high-powered trio, Sloane still offers occasional scat solos and provocative note choices.) In the last three years Sloane has devoted albums to the repertoires of Carmen McRae and Frank Sinatra, and you can hear echoes of each singer’s style in her music today. From McRae (a close friend as well as mentor) she borrows an unimpeachable swing, a slight slangy drawl, and a penchant for understating important notes and words: by drawing back just enough, she focuses more attention on them than if she’d landed with both feet. And Sloane shares Sinatra’s relaxed wisdom, giving the sense that she’s seen enough to know exactly what a lyric means–to the songwriter, to herself, and to the listener. Last week, on the second night of a two-week gig, Sloane stuck mostly to ballads and kept the pace casual; she’d already established a solid connection with the tremendous and rarely-heard Chicago pianist Larry Novak–an accompanist whose skill at filling a supporting role doesn’t prevent him from spinning state-of-the-art solos. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, Toulouse Cognac Bar, 2140 N. Lincoln Park West; 773-665-9071. NEIL TESSER


Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Heather Pillar.