Kitty Margolis makes such superfine jazz records, it leaves you to wonder why she isn't a star. Could it be because she's sexy, when jazz is supposed to be serious? Could it be because she plies her sparkling, musicianly trade in San Francisco, away from the jazz power centers of New York and Los Angeles? Whatever the reason, not hearing her is a major loss. Not only does Margolis write cool tunes -- her funky "You Just Might Get It" marries the Beatnik soulfulness of Mose Allison's "Your Mind Is on Vacation" to the glittering disdain of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" -- she has superb taste in music and musicians. Take her luminous version of the Dave Frishberg-Alan Broadbent "Heart's Desire," a ravishing blend of her expressive voice and Rich Kuhns's accordion. Take her spooky update of Pink Floyd's "Money," done up like drapery: all spidery, burgundy, and rue.
Needless to say, Margolis, whose stylings evoke Betty Carter one moment and Marilyn Monroe the next, is far from orthodox. Besides her two cleverly written originals, she covers tunes by Tom Waits, the underrated and similarly witty Bob Dorough, and Randy Newman. She surrounds herself with the best sidemen available on the Left Coast, and she sings with joy and spunk. Her topics are pretentiousness, authenticity, and intimacy, and she's always credible. Not to mention enthralling. Four years ago, she recorded the scintillating "Straight Up With a Twist" with legendary vocalist Charles Brown and fiery trumpeter Roy Hargrove, delivering a more conventionally jazzy record. Here, Margolis's key accomplice is Joyce Cooling, an economically poignant guitarist who co-wrote the gentle bossa nova "It's You" with her. Their lovely collaboration embodies the singular pleasures of an album that always generates heat, but never loses its cool.