Carmen McRae & Betty Carter – Live at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco {Verve}

Review by Scott Yanow (

This project is an unusual matchup between two very individual vocalists that generally works. Both Carmen McRae and Betty Carter show a lot of good humor during their duets, cracking occasional jokes and often jamming quite spontaneously. With suitable support from pianist Eric Gunnison, bassist Jim Hughart and drummer Winard Harper along with a very enthusiastic audience at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall, Carter usually takes vocal honors while McRae comes up with the most humorous lines. Some of the ensembles are ragged but this encounter is overall quite successful. The CD reissue adds three previously unreleased selections that feature McRae without Carter. Now if only someone had teamed together Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan for a full album.

01 – What’s New?
02 – Stolen Moments (aka “You Belong to Her”)
03 – But Beautiful
04 – Am I Blue?
05 – Glad to Be Unhappy; Where or When
06 – Sometimes I’m Happy
07 – Isn’t it Romantic?
08 – Sophisticated Lady
09 – It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got that Swing)
10 – I Hear Music
11 – Love Dance
12 – That Old Devil Moon

Betty Carter, Carmen McRae – vocals
Eric Gunnison – piano, electric piano (on #11)
Jim Hughart – bass
Winard Harper – drums

Recorded January, 30-31 & February, 1 – 1987
at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco.

Quality: eac, flac, cue, log, artwork

Carmen McRae – Fine and Mellow (Live at Birdland West) {Concord}

Review by Scott Yanow (

Although Carmen McRae is the obvious star of her live record (which has been reissued on CD), she gives plenty of solo space to her notable all-star band (Red Holloway on tenor and alto, organist Jack McDuff, guitarist Phil Upchurch, bassist John Clayton, and drummer Paul Humphrey). McRae did not record in this context with an organ group very often. All seven songs (which range in length from four minutes to the nine-and-a-half-minute title track) are swing-era standards except for Eubie Blake’s “My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More,” which dates back to the early ’20s, but McRae updates them a bit and makes them sound relevant and swinging. Recommended.

01 – What Is This Thing Called Love
02 – What Can I Say After I Say I’m Sorry
03 – Fine and Mellow
04 – These Foolish Things Remind Me of You
05 – Black and Blue
06 – One More Chance
07 – Untill the Real Thing Comes Along
08 – My Handy Man Ain’t Handy No More

Carmen McRae – vocals
Red Holloway – tenor & alto saxophone
John Clayton – bass
Paul Humphrey – drums
Jack McDuff – organ
Phil Upchurch – guitar

Recorded live at Birdland West, Long Beach, CA; December 1987

Quality: eac, flac, cue, log, artwork

Cal Tjader & Carmen McRae – Heat Wave {Concord}

Review by “A Customer” (

Let me start by saying that if your idea of jazz does not include “outside” influences, then forget it, if you think that there can be a “pure” form of jazz, then go somewhere else. This recording is one of the earlier truly equal marriages of jazz and Latin music, where both parts work together, and the playing is fantastic! The whole band works as one unit, no small feat when there are two (beautifully understated when that is what’s required) trombones and one singer.
With this recording, Carmen McRae continues the well established tradition (see Billie Holiday, Cassandra Wilson, Christian McBride etc etc etc) of taking pop songs and giving them a new workout. She takes Evil Ways, originally by Tjader’s former band member Willie Bobo, and gives it the sultriest rendition I have ever heard, and her versions of Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing, All is Fair and Heat Wave have real personality and warmth. (Possibly the only downside for me is McRae’s vocals on Besame Mucho, but I only noticed the problem since I began learning Spanish!)
Cal Tjader executes one of the best solos of his recorded career on Evil Ways, and plays with great sensitivity on Upside Down and Besame Mucho. This was the last album Tjader made before he died, and when conguero Poncho Sanchez then struck out on his own, he took part of the band with him. Who could blame him? These guys can really play!
The repertoire swings from jazz to Latin, deliacte (Upside Down, All is Fair), to powerful (Love, Evil Ways) and everybody handles everything easily, including the merengue interpretation of Love with the drum kit playing a modification of a standard jazz patterns, as well as all the Latin-izing. And what a wonderful change it is to hear Latin jazz album that is not purely Cuban or Brazilian influenced, but takes ideas and rhythms from a few places. The recording quality is smooth and clear, everthing you could possibly want is right here.
Jazz? No. Latin jazz? You bet, and awesome Latin jazz at that!

01 – Heat Wave
02 – All in Love is Fair
03 – Besame Mucho
04 – Evil Ways
05 – Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me
06 – Love
07 – Upside Down (Flor de Lis)
08 – The Visit
09 – Speak Low
10 – Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing

Cal Tjader – vibes
Carmen McRae – vocals
Mashall Otwell, Mark Levine – piano
Rob Fisher – bass
Vince Lateano – drums
Poncho Sanchez – congas and percussion
Ramon Banda – timbales and percussion
Al Bent, Mike Heathman – trombone

Recorded at Coast Recorders, San Francisco, California, January 1982.

Quality: eac, flac, cue, log, artwork