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Betty Carter: 'I'm Yours, You're Mine'
Betty Carter:   'I'm Yours, You're Mine'
In the late '60s, as a young and relatively immature fan of Jazz, enamored with both the avant-garde and hard bop, this writer had an aversion to even the greatest Jazz vocalists. So it was somewhat disappointing when tenorman Frank Foster halted his hard-blowing set to bring a somewhat scrawny and unassuming female vocalist to the stage of New York's legendary Five Spot. Just as I was about to step outside for a slice of Iggy's pizza, I was stopped in my tracks by a sound unlike any I'd ever heard before. Or anywhere else since, other than from the mouth of the gloriously unique ultimate Jazz singer, Betty Carter.

Returning to the scene after curtailing her career to raise two children, that one brief appearance was the only time I heard her until a few years later when I was involved in distributing her own label, Bet-Car Records. Over the ensuing years I must have seen Betty perform live at least 20 times, always marveling at the purity and immediacy of every performance, regardless of how many times I heard her sing the same songs.

Two pieces that she usually performed live, 'This Time' and the title track are two of the best cuts from her final, and quite possibly her best album, 'I'm Yours, You're Mine.' The two pieces, which open the album, are perfect vehicles for Betty's often wordless vocal style that, when she chooses to actually use the words, does so in a manner that draws every last drop of meaning from them. She approaches the structure of the composition in a similar manner, often fragmented, only allowing whatever familiarity the listener may have with the tune to come in pieces as she wants it to emerge, reconstructed in her own utterly unique manner. Yet the piece of music is never diminished. It's as if she cuts through all of the surface sheen to reveal the pure emotional core of the compositon like an x-ray of the song's inner soul. The result is an experience of almost incalculable emotional intensity and breathtaking beauty.

Each of the seven tunes are given the most loving and moving of interpretations. Betty never went for the obvious. Every piece was conceived as its own entity. "Ballads" becomes too broad a term where Betty's music is concerned. Every note, every sound, every breath becomes a moment to be savored and cherished.

Even in the case of 'Close Your Eyes,' where she sings the song in a relatively standard manner, the music comes with such delicacy and focus, suspended for solos by trombonist Andre Hayward, pianist Xavier Davis (another in a long line of excellent pianists to develop under Betty's special tutelage) and tenorman Mark Shim, whose impeccably tasteful solos and occasional obligatos throughout the album fit perfectly into the music, caressing and sometimes cradling Betty's absolutely wonderful vocals.

Jobim's beautiful 'Useless Landscape' and Kurt Weill's 'Lonely House' (with lyrics by Langston Hughes) are both given incredibly beautiful and sensitive treatments, and even the up-tempo version of 'East of the Sun' maintains the same soul-scorching intensity as the slower pieces. But it does give the remarkable rhythm section of drummer Gregory Hutchison and bassist Curtis Lundy a chance to cut loose.

But the true shocker for me is her version of a Kurt Weill tune that I've always despised as ultra-maudlin and often infuriating 'September Song.' In Betty's hands it's reborn, saturated with the emotion that so many others have tried to inject, but failed.

Like all of the great horn players with whom she's on common ground Miles, Brownie, Trane, Booker Ervin, et al every note is filled with a lifetime of meaning. There will never, never, never, ever be another singer like Betty Carter.

George Lane


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