Carmen McRae

Woman Talk: Live at the Village Gate

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This album captures the best of Carmen McRae's performances at a monthlong appearance at New York's Village Gate jazz club in November 1965. At the top of her form and employing her usual laid-back manner with lots of well-placed space between words and phrases, McRae delivers on a set of those songs that have a touch of irony she seemed to favor as her career and voice matured, with tunes by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley getting the heaviest play. On "Don't Explain," the irony is so powerful that her voice takes on a wounded quality. McRae made this song part of her program as often as she could to honor her mentor, Billie Holiday. Her ability to work behind the beat and her unique wordless vocalizing punctuate this album, being especially effective on "Sometimes I'm Happy," which she turns into a torch song. One of the album's high points is the a cappella opening to "Feeling Good," before the band drifts in with a Latin beat and Ray Beckenstein's flute carrying the instrumental load. Subtlety is not one of the qualities McRae will be especially remembered for. When she wanted to belt, she belted -- and she does with "I Wish I Were in Love Again." All in all, a very satisfying set from a singer who may not be quite up to the level of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan, but who is certainly close enough to be numbered among the vocal jazz elite.

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