Betty Carter is an acquired taste. Her vocal projection stems exclusively from what "legit" singers refer to as "head tone"; her enunciation can seem unfocused (no one sings with mouth as wide open as Betty); she can frustrate listeners (including this one) who insist on hearing the tune's melody, at least on the first pass. But she's definitely an original, and there's much on this generous anthology (16 tunes, counting the medleys) that's likely to please even the quasi-converts. Personally, I prefer Betty when she's singing originals and esoterica ("I Can't Help It," "Open the Door," "Tight"). The inclusion of the duet with Carmen McRae ("It Don't Mean a Thing") is also a welcome highlight, contrasting differences in vocal production and approaches to scat singing (Carmen's voice has far more "grain"; Betty's scat is more fluent, Carmen's more thoughtful). I wish Betty had taken jazz singing into the modal areas suggested by Miles and Coltrane, using her chant-like phrasing and plaintive inflections in an even free-er, more incantatory manner. The best Betty Carter that I've heard is on an out-of-print, unreissued Roulette LP, "Now It's My Turn." If you can't find it, this collection is, all in all, a reasonable substitute.
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If you are a jazz fan and don't know Betty Carter, what a treat you have in store with this CD. Carter is a totally free spirit, almost abandoning the melody, sometimes, to play with it on her own terms, going in new directions and interacting with her accompanists to create new sounds, even on "standards." And she obviously LOVES what she is doing, one of the few performers who really has fun every minute she is on stage (and several tracks here are recorded live). The result is a CD that makes the listener as happy as the performer--an upbeat, bebop, scat-filled, and uptempo collection that never lets down for an instant.
Carter blends with her band(s) on many tracks, the timbre of her voice sometimes sounding like a "blatty" trumpet and sometimes like a mellow sax, and she provides many opportunities for her musicians to take the song in new directions, to which she responds in kind. If the song is a standard and you know the melody, you will have no difficulty finding it within the variations and improvisations. "The Trolley Song," a song I have never liked, (from The Audience with Betty Carter) becomes a "new" and thoroughly delightful song in Betty's hands, especially when she delays her lyrics, staying behind the band. Filled with humor and high-octane playfulness, she musically mugs with the audience and keeps them chuckling as the trolley finally runs down.
Her duet with Carmen McRae, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," (a track from "...Read more ›
This brilliant collection, spanning a great part of Carter's obviously remarkable career is highly exciting; although accompanied by some fine musicians, Betty is a true star, using her voice like an instrument, in the manner very few singers do.
Very rarely have I heard such great modern jazz singing; she's full of rhythm, wit, harmonically advanced in a be-bop fashion, and, if it's not an overstatement, I think she approaches standards in a manner reminiscent of Thelonious Monk...
The duet with Carmen McRae is a real treat (both singers are great, modern and highly individual) and Betty's originals are equally rewarding as her flights of fancy based on the standards. I don't know is this Betty's finest hour, but such a fine hour of jazz is always welcome on my CD player.
Incidently, I own only one other Betty's album - a duet project with Ray Charles on which she shows the genius of popular music a thing or two about creative singing (I like Ray's singing very much, but she is in a different league altogether - she bellongs with Billie and Sarah).
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