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Kate McGarry: Girl Talk

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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There are many reasons to like vocalist Kate McGarry's Girl Talk.

There's the lively set list, first of all—a mix of all-too-well-known and too-little-known standards, with a fine Brazilian number thrown in. There's the uniform excellence of the band: witness Gary Versace's idiomatic organ accompaniment on "Girl Talk"; guitarist Keith Ganz—sensitive throughout, but especially on the forlorn folk tune "Looking Back"; the stately Brazilian duet "O Cantador," with Kurt Elling; and bassist Reuben Rogers' nice feature on "I Just Found Out About Love."

McGarry herself approaches every mood and tempo with ease and assurance. Her bluesy reading of the title tune, for example, with its hopelessly sexist lyric ("the weaker sex, the speaker sex"), coos and flirts, but winks at every turn in the direction of Betty Carter's feminist deconstruction from Finally (Roulette, 1969).

There's all that, and there's McGarry's subtle and important contribution to the long co-evolution of jazz and rock 'n' roll. On the one hand, there are jazz players playing rock 'n' roll tunes, like pianist Herbie Hancock's The New Standard (Verve, 1996). On the other, there are players who incorporate rock 'n' roll textures, techniques, preferences and norms into jazz performance. In recent years, the best example may be bassist Todd Sickafoose, who marvelously described his musical approach in an AAJ interview as "[Duke Ellington's] 'Black and Tan Fantasy,' as played by John [Lennon] and Paul [McCartney]."

The first of these tendencies is, in part, a way of dealing with the depletion of the repertoire: how many times can you squeeze meaning out of "All The Things You Are"? Why not do some Nirvana numbers instead? McGarry has played this side of the fence: she garnered notice years back with a plaintive version of The Cars' "Just What I Needed." The second tendency is more complex, and has to do with the necessary regeneration and renewal of musical materials in jazz. And it's here that McGarry's contribution is most vivid on this record. The repertoire and the instrumentation fit comfortably in the jazz canon. But McGarry's singing—and, to a lesser degree, the acoustic guitar—speak to an audience as familiar with Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones as with Betty Carter. Of course, one need only compare the singing and compositions of Mitchell and Jones to the work of a more traditional folk singer like Joan Baez to recognize that they long ago merged jazz sensibilities into their folk music.

McGarry, accordingly, infuses the jazz repertoire with this same jazz-folk sensibility—nowhere more evidently than on the masterful version of "The Man I Love." In some ways, McGarry follows the lead of Carter (again), whose glacially paced interpretation on Look What I Got! (Verve, 1988) is similarly bleak. At the same time, and particularly in her soaring vocal coda, McGarry plumbs the Mitchell-Jones vocal groove. In so doing, she manages to convey both whispery fragility and tremendous power; a remarkable performance.

Track Listing: We Kiss in a 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: vocal; Keith Ganz: guitars; Gary Versace: piano, organ; Reuban Rogers: bass; Clarence Penn: drums, percussion; Kurt Elling: vocal (5).

Title: Girl Talk | Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Palmetto Records

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