Girl Talk
Kate McGarry

Review of new album from vocalist

Girl Talk is an appropriate and clever title for this tribute to female jazz vocalists who have inspired McGarry over the years. In preparation for this recording, McGarry literally listened to hours of "girl talk," namely taped interviews with Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Anita O'Day, Shirley Horn, Nina Simone, Elis Regina, Sheila Jordan, Irene Kral, and Abbey Lincoln. As McGarry so eloquently explains in her notes: "These icons were co-creators of the great art of jazz singing at a time in our nation's history when women's voices and dreams were so easily silenced or devalued. It was in the intimate relationships I developed with these women via my turntable that I began to find empowered role models of femininity and self determination." In lesser hands, the outcome could have been mere imitation or even channeling, but McGarry is too talented, creative, and secure in her own artistic identity for that to happen. Here she brings her always personal and contemporary approach to the enduring jazz tradition with results that are stunning.

For "We Kiss in a Shadow," McGarry's alluring wordless vamp leads into the lyrics' portrayal, sung reflectively and with the quest for gay rights in her mind. Gary Versace's light-touched organ solo retains the mood, and bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Clarence Penn provide sensitive, forthright support. The unconventional arrangement by McGarry and her husband Keith Ganz includes overdubbed duet passages by the singer in refreshing counterpoint. "Girl Talk" itself uses Betty Carter's version as a guide. McGarry sings the tune fairly straight, but with more than a touch of sarcasm at what she herself calls the "patronizing" lyrics. Vercase's velvety organ comping and both his and guitarist Ganz's soulful solos complete the picture. McGarry gets down and funky as the track nears its conclusion, toying with the words in playful, teasing fashion.

McGarry sounds a bit like Anita O'Day on her straight-ahead interpretation of "I Just Found Out About Love," although without O'Day's melodic and rhythmic adventurousness. She does, however, offer up some spirited scatting during Rogers' short solo. "The Man I Love" is slowed to an effective snail's pace, as McGarry conveys an uncertainty that the man in her life will ever really appear. Versace's organ and piano and Ganz's guitar eerily accentuate the combined sense of impatience and hopelessness. This McGarry/Ganz rearrangement or alteration is both original and chilling. "O Cantador" features McGarry's sparkling duet in Portuguese with guest Kurt Elling. Their voices blend in silky harmony, and their solo parts are sung with heartfelt, unaffected emotion. Ganz's acoustic guitar solo only adds to the captivating, lingering effect this performance has on the listener.

The fluid, assured vocal by McGarry during "This Heart of Mine" is enhanced by the accompaniment, improvisation, and arrangement of Ganz. McGarry deftly explores the nooks and crannies of "I Know That You Know" with the lively wordplay and rhythmic agility of O'Day or Carter, as if "I Just Found Out About Love" was just a warm-up. This is an uninhibited tour de force that only a true jazz singer could pull off so naturally and effortlessly. McGarry's mellifluous voice is a perfect match for "Looking Back," the Rowles/Ernst tune of sentimental remembrance. She is accompanied sensitively only by Ganz on electric guitar, who switches to acoustic for a mesmerizing solo.

"Charade" is given another superior arrangement by Ganz, framed by the interaction of Versace's organ, Rogers' bass, and Penn's drums. The organist also develops an outstanding solo. McGarry's vocal timbre here is in deeper, more resonant contrast to the previous "Looking Back," a testament to her adaptability and range. The Jan Savitt big-band era opus,"It's a Wonderful World," commences with McGarry's easeful, boppish scatting. Her take on the lyrics is this time definitely reminiscent of Carter, as she phrases unpredictably--elongating here or repeating there--but never losing touch with the intended message, and swinging all the while.

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Scott Albin