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Carmen McRae has always been one of my favourite singers. Technically, she couldn’t match the vocal gymnastics of Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, but her timing and delivery were impeccable. Ballad Essentials is a fine compilation drawn from four albums Carmen recorded for Concord in the 80s Fine And Mellow - Live At Birdland West, Heat Wave, Two For The Road and You're Lookin' At Me. Ballad singing was always Carmen’s strong suit her behind-the-beat phrasing, cynical outlook and world-weary voice could put a fresh spin on the sappiest of love songs. She delivers such classics as These Foolish Things Remind Me of You, I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance, More Than You Know, It Will Have To Do (Until the Real Thing Comes Along) and If I Should Lose You without a trace of false sentimentality. Pianist George Shearing, Jack McDuff (Hammond B3), Cal Tjader (vibes) and Red Holloway (tenor) are a few of the musicians that provide support at various times. A good place to start for those unfamiliar with Carmen McRae. I would also highly recommend The Great American Songbook [live] (Atlantic). Classy stuff from a classy lady. (###)
As a songwriter and vocalist, I love jazz for the experience of being in the center of intense creativity. It is the most potent form of music for keeping the artist and the audience in the 'now. Being in the moment is essential for humans, and we need help in learning how to do that. As a songwriter, I need the depth of musicality that jazz voicings can give my stories. My songs seem light and whimsical, but the message is not.
I met my main collaborator, Mark Fitzgibbon, at one of his gigs. I needed to do my first original album, and his playing was masterful, robust, and beautiful. At the time, I didn't realize how suited we were as a team. We're onto our 4rth album together.
My advice to new listeners is to listen to a really clear and simple version of a song so you can then hear what the musicians are doing and enjoy their creativity and musicality. Also, you have to see jazz live to appreciate it fully. You'll never feel it the same way listening to a CD or online. You need the vibration to go through your body to really get it!
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