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Prior to this surprisingly gratifying new release, jazz singer Diane Schuur has displayed raw talent ungoverned by taste. Her solid musicianship—powerful chops and a gift for swinging it at every tempo—has always been evident, but her granitelike obliviousness to lyric content and inability to complete a song without launching into shrieking overdrive have rendered her work nearly unlistenable. One might have expected that this tribute to the robust, irreplaceable Dinah Washington, the realization of a long-standing Schuur ambition, would have galvanized her shrillest, most over-the-top tendencies. Instead, Love Walked In reveals warmth, depth, and control absent from the vocalist’s previous 10 GRP recordings. No doubt, extra-musical factors have contributed to this newfound maturity; she is in recovery from substance abuse and has recently married. Perhaps the onset of middle age—Schuur has been singing since the mid-’70s—has awakened a desire for more profound and refined artistic expression. Whatever the reasons, this collection of 10 standards (few of them Washington signature pieces) represents Schuur’s strongest work to date. Understated brass-and-string arrangements by John Clayton and Dale Oeller—reminiscent of Nelson Riddle’s late-’50s charts for Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald—create a mood of introspection, reinforced by brief, empathetic solos from saxophonist Pete Christlieb, trumpeter Jack Sheldon, and pianist Mike Wofford, Sarah Vaughan’s former accompanist. The rueful “Blue Gardenia” and the jauntily affirmative “Nothing Ever Changes My Love for You” stand out because of their relative unfamiliarity, but even the most overworked songs—“Say It Isn’t So,” “Time After Time,” and the title tune—take on fresh luster in these thoughtful performances. Although hardly an essential jazz vocal CD, Love Walked In indicates, for the first time, that someday Schuur might be capable of creating one.

—Joel E. Siegel