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René Marie: Live at the Jazz Standard

What’s the secret to making a great live recording? If it’s a vocal album, there are three. Rule No.1: Leave in the patter and the clutter. For most of us, live albums provide our only chance to hear a singer outside the studio. We want to hear the jokes and stories that shape the bridges between songs. (If you need a blueprint, you can’t do better than the Carnegie Hall recordings of Judy Garland, Tony Bennett or Shirley Bassey.) We want to hear real applause (sweetening is for sitcoms). And we want to hear the rustles, coughs and noisy busboys that help keep it real. Rule No. 2: Give us something new. Sure it’s necessary to sing the hits and signature tunes, but it’s not terribly entertaining if every song is transposed, arrangement and all, from a studio album. Rule No. 3 (which is really just an addendum to Rule No. 1): Don’t mix it to death. Peggy Lee insisted her live recordings be fiddled with until they sounded as pure and even as her studio efforts. They do. Which kinda defeats the whole purpose of recording live in the first place.

Based on these obviously biased rules, Rene Marie scores half marks for her first live recording. On the plus side, she sounds better than ever-strong, vibrant and fully in control. She also goes to considerable lengths to include material that’s not lifted directly from either of her two superb MaxJazz studio efforts, How Can I Keep from Singing? and Vertigo. Such lengths, in fact, that everything is fresh except the autobiographical “How Can I Keep From Singing?” (which, like Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” or Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” is rather essential to a Marie set). Best of the new is a bouncy “It Might As Well Be Spring” (an ebullient companion piece to Vertigo’s singularly sexy “Surrey With the Fringe on Top”), an appropriately unearthly “Nature Boy,” a surprisingly effective blend of Ravel’s “Bolero” and Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” (with Marie evidencing definite shades of Dianne Reeves) and her self-penned “Paris on Ponce,” which, though it concerns a certain sophisticated nightspot in Atlanta, sounds like it was lifted directly from the Henry Mancini score for Victor/Victoria.

The downside: Apart from a brief introduction to “How Can I Keep From Signing?” Marie utters not a single word. No anecdotes, no explanations of the song choices, no audience acknowledgements. There’s no sense of the woman inside the singer. Result? A third great Rene Marie album, but one that sounds like simply another studio effort augmented with scattered applause. Still, since I love to hear Marie sing, it’ll have to do until the real thing comes along.

Originally Published