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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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CARMEN McRAE

Woman Talk

Fresh Sound FSR-CD 603

 

 


1. Sometimes I'm Happy
2. Don't Explain
3. Woman Talk
4. Kick Off Your Shoes
5. The Shadow of Your Smile
6. Where Would You Be Without Me?
7. Feelin' Good
8. Run, Run, Run
9. No More
10. Look at That Face
11. I Wish I Were in Love Again
12. The Sweetest Sounds
13. Perdido
14. Love Is Here to Stay
15. Love for Sale
16. Miss Brown to You
17. Too Close for Comfort
18. You Better Go Now
19. Trav'lin' Light?
20. Midnight Sun
21. If I Could Be with You? One Hour Tonight

Carmen McRae - Vocals
Ray Beckenstein - Flute (tracks 1-12)
Norman Simmons - Piano
Joe Puma - Guitar (tracks 1-12)
Paul Breslin - Bass (tracks 1-12)
Frank Severino - Drums (tracks 1-12)
Jos‚ Mangual - Bongoes (tracks 1-12)
Victor Sproles - Bass (tracks 13-21)
Stu Martin - Drums (tracks 13-21)

 

Some people prefer LPs to compact discs but the word "compact" has never been so appropriate, as a CD is not only smaller than an LP but it can hold more music. This release is a good example: a CD which gets two whole original LPs onto one disc, lasting nearly 74 minutes. It consists of concert recordings originally issued as Woman Talk (tracks 1-12) and Live and Wailing (tracks 13-21). The first LP was recorded at New York's Village Gate in 1965, with Carmen McRae accompanied by a sextet. The second LP was recorded in 1966 at New York's Half Note with backing by a trio.

The title of the second LP seems totally appropriate for both sessions, as Carmen McRae was often at her best before a live audience and she could certainly wail. In fact at times she sounds like a jazz version of Ethel Merman - belting out songs with unstoppable force. Carmen's voice can verge on a scream when she is singing passionately. Yet she could also reduce her voice to a near-whisper. She's a vocalist from whom you can expect the unexpected.

This is clear right from the first track, Sometimes I'm Happy, which she takes at a slower tempo than many performers. This enables her to squeeze every ounce of meaning from the lyrics: one of her finest talents. It is even clearer in the second track, Don't Explain, a song which Billie Holiday made her own but which Carmen invests with an equal amount of expression and pathos. In Trav'lin Light from the second LP, there are further references to Holiday - a singer who clearly influenced McRae considerably, although Carmen has a more versatile voice.

This versatility is illustrated most powerfully in two tracks: Love for Sale, with which Carmen takes many liberties in melody, lyrics and phrasing, including some amazingly long-held notes, and Midnight Sun which displays her remarkable range in a song whose chromatic structure is a challenge to any vocalist. The twirling journey she takes on the final note is a miracle of improvisation.

Pianist Norman Simmons is an essential ingredient in the success of both these sessions. He manages the daunting task of following every twist and turn that Carmen's voice takes, and he adds some economical solos. Flautist Ray Beckenstein decorates some numbers attractively but Jos‚ Mangual's percussion tends to be intrusive rather than helpful, except on The Sweetest Sounds, where his ultra-fast drumming propels the song. He is listed on the sleeve as playing the bongoes but on some tracks the sound is more like conga drums. In a way, the slimmed-down trio of the second session is more effective than the sometimes over-powered sextet in the first.

This album is well worth buying, as it captures Carmen McRae at her peak of excellence: capable of expressing every emotion including passion, tenderness, anger, ecstasy, regret, and even contempt (in the tongue-in-cheek Where Would You Be Without Me?). In particular, these performances demonstrate McRae's daring in improvisation and her attention to the words of every song, so that she seems to be telling a fresh story on every track.

Tony Augarde



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