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Barbara Carroll: Live at Birdland

Like the majority of female instrumentalists, Barbara Carr-oll remains the jazz equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield-un-able to get adequate respect. She’s guided a stunning six-decade career as a pianist (and sometime vocalist) so imaginatively skillful that she can shift from art house neoclassical to barroom stride with the subtlest twist of an elegant wrist; yet, Carroll remains barely recognized beyond those who know her from her 24-year run in the Carlyle’s Bemelman’s Bar (and even there she had to play second fiddle to Bobby Short, who held court in the hotel’s plusher Cafe Carlyle). Apart from pricey Japanese reissues of her exquisite mid-’50s work for RCA and a handful of recent releases, far too few of her more than three-dozen albums have seen the light of day on CD.

Now, the frustratingly meager Carroll library can at least be expanded by one, thanks to this hour-long live set, recorded in 2003, that places her in the exemplary company of bassist Jay Leonhart and drummer Joe Cocuzzo. Of the 10 tracks (including four that showcase the reedlike beauty of Carroll’s voice) the standout is her mahogany-rich “You’d Be so Nice to Come Home To.” Or is it her dove-soft reading of Sondheim’s “Old Friends”? Or perhaps her inspired blend of “Do I Hear a Waltz?” and “The Jitterbug Waltz”? Actually, choosing is an impossible task, since the disc is bereft of weaknesses, ably proving Carroll one of the hippest octogenarians on the planet.

Originally Published