How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Coming across Kate McGarry's If Less is More... Nothing is Everything on an iPod in shuffle mode, it's possible that "Man of God," might be followed by "The Priest" and "Just What I Needed;" a couple of spiritual songs followed by a slow acoustic version of the hit song by The Cars. Listeners might at first be reminded of Sara Groves, Suzanne Vega, and Joni Mitchell, and not really understand the depth of McGarry's jazz chops until hearing "You're My Thrill" or "Let's Face the Music." She can flat out deliver a jazz lyric. In fairness to the producer, these are the first two tracks on the CD.
Perhaps the iPod would land on Jobim's "Caminhos Cruzados," a slow bossa which features McGarry singing deliciously phrased Portuguese lyrics, backed by acoustic guitar, and accordion. "I Carry Your Heart" sets an e.e. cummings poem to music, and "You Don't Have to Cry" features rich three-part harmonies with earthy percusion using cajon, cardboard box and brushes, and pizzicato violin. Listeners might not realize at first that this is even a jazz recording, because the tracks vary so much.
The word this recording brings to mind is range... not just vocal range, but McGarry's musical range in style and genrebetween the great jazz singers of old (Betty Carter, Anita O'Day), Celtic music, spirituals, acoustic and percussive musicand the subtlety and great talent to express her music by combining it all. McGarry's husband and long-time musical collaborator Keith Ganz helps bring life to the music on guitar, and Gary Versace adds his genius on organ and accordion. The addition of a rhythm section dripping with soul, and some tasty sax playing by Donny McCaslin makes for a great recording.
It helps to have all the pieces in place. But McGarry and her collaborators, including producer Matt Balitsaris (Palmetto Records owner and founder), bring a higher vision to this project. According to Balitsaris, his label has succeeded so well "because it makes music that matters to the artist and to the audience. Palmetto Records also supports artists who are often overlooked or are considered somewhat left of center. This enables the label to help expand the boundaries and even the vocabulary of jazz, and also gives the artists the freedom they need to make great music." This dream today is fully realized through the music of Kate McGarry. The musicians gel, and the arranging is well designed and executed.
McGarry's career is now in full blossom. In addition to having five recordings with Palmetto, she's joined the faculty of Manhattan School of Music. "My challenge there has been to bring what I know and value about the jazz tradition to the education world. The trick is to teach what you know and be who you are. Being your authentic self is the only way to go."
Talk about practicing what you preach. This recording demonstrates her philosophy, and shows how it's not about talent alone, or just having a great voice, or knowing the standards. It's more about finding one's own voice, having vision and seeing it through. Great jazz artists find a way to do just that. This should be the year that McGarry breaks through for a Grammy nomination. If Less is More... Nothing is Everything is certainly worthy.
Track Listing: Let's Face the Music; You're My Thrill; Just What I Needed; The Times They Are A-Changin'; Caminhos Cruzados; You Don't Have To Cry; The Priest; Flor De Lis; I Carry Your Heart; Man of God.
Personnel: Kate McGarry: vocals; Keith Ganz: guitar; Gary Versace: organ, accordion, piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Clarence Penn: drums, percussion; Jo Lawry: vocals violin, triangle (6,9); Peter Eldridge: vocals, cardboard box and brushes (4, 6); James Shipp: pandero, cajon, talking drum (4, 6); Donny McCaslin: saxophone (1, 3, 7, 8).