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JAZZ SPOTLIGHT : The Yin, Yang of Jazz Singing

November 20, 1994|Don Heckman

BETTY CARTER

"Feed the Fire"

Verve Records

* * *

Carter deals in upfront statements. When she grapples with a song, as she frequently does here, there is no doubt about who will emerge victorious. Her interpretations of the familiar "Sometimes I'm Happy" and "Lover Man" twist the tunes to her own purposes. At times, she stretches and reshapes melody lines well past their appropriate harmonies; occasionally, she plays the role of instrumentalist, scatting out phrases with the feral self-confidence of a jazz lioness.

Where Shirley Horn's music pulls the listener in via an almost hypnotic suspension of time, Carter's reaches out, grabs the lapels and shouts, "This is it!" It is quirky, unsettling jazz and a demanding experience for the accompanying musicians. In this case, Carter is backed by an ensemble--pianist Geri Allen, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette--fully capable of dealing with her idiosyncratic style. The result is intermittently perplexing, but always fascinating.

SHIRLEY HORN

"I Love You Paris"

Verve Records

* * *

Horn's return to jazz singing was a powerful boost for an art that had begun to drift toward irrelevance. In the years since her comeback album in 1987, she has distilled her exquisitely controlled style into brilliantly artful minimalism.

Working here with longtime accompanists Charles Ables on bass and Steve Williams on drums, she is at her very best, singing standards such as "Just in Time," and "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" with an irresistibly sensual, easy grooving rhythm. In contrast, "Do It Again" and "It's Easy to Remember" are reduced to near-perilously slow tempos--a floating time that can only be effective in the hands of a performer whose rhythmic skills are strong enough to fill the pregnant musical pauses with the rich promise of anticipation.

For Horn, each song is a musical miniature, a complete melding of words, music and rhythmic flow. She creates a captivating emotional universe in which subtle timing, harmonic precision and dramatic implication are everything.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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