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Carmen Sings Monk

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Album Review

Carmen McRae, a good friend of Thelonious Monk, sang 13 of his songs (two of which are also heard in different live versions) on this memorable project. Half of the lyrics are by Jon Hendricks, while the remainder were written by Abbey Lincoln ("Blue Monk"), Bernie Hanighen, Sally Swisher, or Mike Ferro. On all but the two concert performances, McRae is assisted by tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan, pianist Eric Gunnison, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Al Foster; Mraz's solos are particularly impressive, although everyone is in sensitive form. The live recordings give listeners two more chances to acknowledge the uniqueness of tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse's tone. As for McRae, her phrasing has rarely sounded better than on this classic set, and it is a particular pleasure to hear her interpret the intelligent lyrics and unusual melodies. "Dear Ruby" ("Ruby, My Dear") and "Listen to Monk" ("Rhythm-A-Ning") are among the high points of the essential and very delightful CD. An inspired idea and one of the best recordings of Carmen McRae's career. [The album's 2001 reissue included bonus tracks.]

Biography

Born: 08 April 1920 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s

Carmen McRae always had a nice voice (if not on the impossible level of an Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan) but it was her behind-the-beat phrasing and ironic interpretations of lyrics that made her most memorable. She studied piano early on and had her first important job singing with Benny Carter's big band (1944), but it would be another decade before her career had really gained much momentum. McRae married and divorced Kenny Clarke in the '40s, worked with Count Basie (briefly) and Mercer Ellington...
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