A number of records have admittedly fallen through the cracks for me this year. One of them, an album I’ve only given a cursory listen to until now, is Kate McGarry’s Girl Talk. And as though my year-end list projects need any more difficulty sorting out, this 2012 release winds up being spectacular in many, many ways.
The April release talks of the Massachusetts-raised singer taking traversed by some of her role models, namely the great female jazz singers that have infused history with so much grandness and swagger. She does just that – and then some – on Girl Talk, delivering music that is traditional and modern all at once.
McGarry fronts an organization that features Keith Ganz (guitars), Gary Versace (organ, piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), and Clarence Penn (drums, percussion). Kurt Elling joins the fun on “O Cantador,” a rendition of the lovely Brazilian ballad.
What is clear from the outset is that McGarry very much has her own voice. This is evident with the commencement of “We Kiss in a Shadow,” a tune from The King and I. The piece has been retooled somewhat and expanded to allow the players and the vocalist more freedom. This also changes the mood, transporting it from its nearly exclusively romantic terrain to something more universal.
The aforementioned “O Cantador” explores the contours of McGarry’s vocals, melting her lush and charming tones together with Elling’s in moments of sweetness and delicacy. Ganz’s guitar makes perfect indentations along the way, but the harmonies shared by the two vocalists are beautiful. They sing almost carefully, exploring the texture of the song as they go.
There’s also “Charade,” a tango-touched tune that eloquently slips in to the fray between Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn’s characters in Stanley Donen’s 1963 film of the same name. The piece encapsulates the mystery and humour of Henry Mancini’s number, but it also drips with a smidgen of sex appeal and features glorious guitar from Ganz.
A delightful version of “It’s a Wonderful World” finishes Girl Talk. Written by Harold Adamson, Jan Savitt and Johnny Watson, it’s a effervescent and optimistic vision that finds our protagonist walking on air without a care. Rogers’ bass treads the lines right along with McGarry’s “talk of heaven.”
Girl Talk not only pays homage to McGarry’s “beloved singer-mothers,” it presents another wonderful jazz vocalist in remarkably complete form. She has all the swing and smile required of her, but her social consciousness and tonal brilliance sends this record into the stratosphere.