Prefacing her impeccable performance of The Folks Who Live on the Hill on Wednesday evening at Birdland, Hilary Kole remarked that the approach singers take to this dream of wedded bliss, composed by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, tends to depend on age and experience.
For ingnues, she suggested, the vision of building a home on a hilltop high and raising a family is a sweetly starry-eyed encapsulation of every young couples fantasy of happily ever after. But for older singers in particular Peggy Lee, who recorded what many regard as the definitive version when she was in her late 30s it evokes a wistful fairy-tale dream that didnt come true.
Ms. Kole, who said she was taking the middle road, delivered a pensive but forthright interpretation that showcased her voices glowing middle register. One of her signature devices is to draw out a note, gradually thickening its texture to achieve a throbbing intensity. The other distinctive quality of her performance was its underlying assertiveness. In everything Ms. Kole sings, you sense her insistence on getting it right by maintaining a precisely calculated balance between technique and expressiveness.
A meticulous perfectionist, Ms. Kole always surrounds herself with the best musicians. Her quartet included the pianist Tedd Firth, who was at his hot, rambunctious best; Paul Gill on bass; John Hart on guitar; and Mark McLean on drums. She recently completed an album, to be released this spring, in which every cut features a different eminent jazz pianist.
The show concentrated on love songs, with only one change of subject (Bobby Troups Lemon Twist). The Beatles And I Love Him was taken so slowly that its breezy assertion of love became a solemn vow. Two Alan J. Lerner-Burton Lane songs Come Back to Me and Too Late Now were treated as slow-burning torch songs that emphasized the beauty of Ms. Koles voice as she contemplated absent loved ones.
Her versions of I Just Found Out About Love and Nobody Else but Me revealed her growing confidence as an uptempo swinger. Discreetly aggressive describes Ms. Kole, a performer who approaches her craft with the dedication of an A student determined to achieve more.
Hilary Kole performs through Saturday at Birdland, 315 West 44th Street, Clinton; (212) 581-3080.