Kate McGarry: Girl Talk (2012)
At a time when it seems that everyone is a jazz singer releasing new music in a male-female distribution of 1 to 10, what is it exactly that separates the merely good singers from the truly great ones. Because of the sheer number of singers and relative high quality of jazz singing today, it is brutally hard for a singer to register above the base noise he or she is surrounded with. Equally hard is critical evaluation of such music. But there are still qualities that isolate that superb few. One of these is purity of voice.
Singer Kate McGarry hails from a musical childhood in Massachusetts that led to African-American musical studies at Amherst. A fine pedigree by any estimation. But rather than nurture a technical/theoretical singing facility, McGarry instead began to cultivate a more organic and fertile vocal style, partially under the tutelage of tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp. McGarry's approach evolved over the singer's four Palmetto releases before Girl Talk (Show Me (2003), Mercy Streets (2005), The Target (2007) and Less is More...Nothing is Everything (2008)).
The voice McGarry arrives with on Girl Talk is one from the perfectly scrubbed and wholesome girl-next-door. Her tone and delivery are effortlessly playful, flirty without being common, with a sexy confidence and secure center...and that is just on the title piece. McGarry takes the dated Neal Hefti piece and updates it with a wholesome sardonicism that avoids poisoning itself with bitterness. She does this while the band takes a nostalgic romp through a Saturday evening with Lawrence Welk, propelled by Gary Versace's grand period organ playing. Husband and guitarist Keith Ganz adds the smokiness necessary for mood. It is very nicely played and sung.
Also a revelation is the disc's opening number, "We Kiss in a Shadow," from Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I (1951). McGarry liberates this song from the stage, giving it a shot of what Laurie Antonioli did "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" on american Dreams (Intrinsic Music, 2010), a loose and almost foreign arrangement and delivery with seamless swing. McGarry shoots this same arrow through the Gershwin's "The Man I Love" and "O Cantador," where she trades vocal counterpoint with Kurt Elling.
Girl Talk is a successful outing by any estimation.
Track Listing: We Kiss in the Shadow; Girl Talk; I Just Found Out About Love; The Man I Love; O Cantador; This Heart of Mine; I Know That You Know; Looking Back; Charade; It’s a Wonderful World.
Personnel: Kate McGarry: vocals; Keith Ganz: guitars; Gary Versace: organ, piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Clarence Penn: drums and percussion; Kurt Elling: vocals (5).