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Thomas Storer | Paris, France | 06/15/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In 1969, Betty Carter had been a pro for twenty years. After learning the ropes with the Lionel Hampton big band, worshipping Charlie Parker with all the other young boppers, and struggling to find her own style in the 50's (hobnobbing along the way with such luminaries as Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins), Carter teamed up with Ray Charles, recording the smash hit "Baby It's Cold Outside" with the Genius in 1961. But she wouldn't play along with the star machine and the relationship soured. She chose to go her own way, recording with small labels such as Roulette, who recorded "Finally," before starting her own label, BetCar. It was as she labored in obscurity with her trio, writing her own arrangements, that she developed the most strikingly original jazz vocal style since Sarah Vaughan made bebop her own. "Finally" catches Carter and her trio - pianist Norman Simmons, veteran accompanist of vocalists who went on to be musical director for Joe Williams, bassist Lisle Atkinson, and drummer Al Harewood - at a time their experiments had cohered into something truly special."Seems Like Old Time," the first track of the opening medley, is full of unusual dissonances alternating with pulsing swing. She brings the tempo way, way down for a tightrope walk through the Johnny Mercer lyric, "I Remember You," again throwing in change-ups in the rhythm and alluring, teasing pauses in the development, before swinging into Irving Berlin's "Remember." Two other medleys are just as good or better: a scorching pair of ballads, "Body and Soul" and "Heart and Soul" (where you can hear from audience reaction what a consummate performer Carter was), and the grouping of two Rodgers and Hart standards, "I Didn't Know What Time It Was" and "I Could Write A Book," sandwiching a chestnut even more popular in jazz circles, Hammerstein and Kern's "All the Things You Are." But, like all of Betty's arrangements, no one had ever sung them like this before.Among the other songs here, "Blue Moon" and "I Only Have Eyes For You" are typical of Carter's more straight-ahead readings of the standards, sung with verve and wit. "All Through the Day" is the first recorded example of Carter's fabled scat marathons, during which she generated uncommon momentum, bringing the listener into her sheer excitement at swinging so hard and so well.Carter's voice is unorthodox and not as polished or agile as that of a Fitzgerald or a Vaughan, but any shortcomings are compensated for by the brilliance and uniqueness of her conception. Carter made many a fine recording, stretching over five decades; "Finally" captures a key moment in her art and is a must-have for anyone interested in understanding this wonderful maverick's development."