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April 1997

Betty Carter and Ray Bryant
Meet Betty Carter and Ray Bryant
Columbia Jazz

No slight intended to Ray Bryant, whose eight trio tracks and solid work as an accompanist represent superior examples of post-Powell piano, but the lady he's co-billed with here leaves merely very fine jazz in the distance halfway through track one. Betty Carter has been called the quintessential jazz singer, largely because she excels at the qualities that jazz lovers extol; phrasing, improvisational imagination, control, and tone. It's no coincidence that all these are attributes shared with instrumentalists; jazz is, after all, primarily an instrumental music and its listeners are tuned in that way. Thus they don't always appreciate one of Betty's greatest abilities. She can get inside the meaning of a song and deliver it as convincingly as the greatest blues, gospel, country or traditional singers. In jazz only Billie Holiday is her equal.

But perhaps I'm being overly analytical. When the artist in question evokes tears, a lump in the throat, a prickling on the back of the neck, all the rest, to quote a song Betty sings elsewhere, is just talk. As for what is here, she doesn't take the extended flights of later years but is already the greatest scatter ever on this first outing, and her voice is warmer. Well, to quote a song that is here, I could write a book, but I'll close by saying that this release represents a pivotal moment in the career of one of the greatest artists America has produced.

You just might want it.

Originally published in April 1997
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