Betty Carter

The Audience With Betty Carter

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After years of being told what she ought to do by record companies and producers, and then putting up with being ignored thanks to the public's fanatic interest in rock & roll, virtuoso jazz singer Carter started her own label. After getting her feet wet with the first few releases, she came up with this double album, which some fans would consider her masterpiece. Eventually it was licensed to Verve. The set is as faithful as possible; a transcription of her nightclub sets with piano trio backing. Interestingly enough, it is not actually recorded at a nightclub per se, because the Great American Music Hall, formerly one of San Francisco's most posh bordellos, is actually more a small theatre, with the set up just intimate enough to pull off this kind of live recording. A pity that the singer herself had to fund the project, because, in 1980, it was much more expensive and complicated to record live than it would become decades later with new technology. And no doubt Carter had to cut a few corners and make do with the results. So, most listeners will have some quibble with the sound, wishing, for example, for much more piano presence, more clarity from the drums, and so forth. This would have to be the only complaints that could be allowed over this material, recorded over three nights, and no doubt allowing plenty of choice of takes. "Sounds (Movin' On)" is Carter's "Chasin' the Trane": it is a bit more than 25 minutes worth of vocal improvisation, use of the voice as an instrument in interplay with the other musicians, and, above all, sheer energy, which is one thing it definitely has in common with the aforementioned Coltrane performance. Another thing in common with Coltrane would be the pianist, John Hicks, who comes out of McCoy Tyner, the saxophonist's main piano accompanist. Hicks goes just about as far out as his notoriously anti-avant-garde boss will allow in these circumstances. The remaining three sides are a mixture of standards and songs written by Carter. Her songwriting talents are an area that has definitely been overshadowed by her singing chops in terms of critical reception. The fourth side of this set, which consists almost totally of her originals, is a good place for one to explore the beautiful, tough-minded songs she writes. Other high points are the lovely exploration of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" and, of course, the fast numbers. There is not a singer alive that takes on the tempos Betty Carter does, and it is a good thing, too. Otherwise, the cardiac wards would be full of drummers and there would be no room for anyone else to get treatment. An interesting choice amongst the songs is a version of "Caribbean Sun," written by the under-appreciated saxophonist Carlos Garnett. Carter's original gatefold packaging included a photo of the entire audience.

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