THE ALBUM --Betty Carter. "The Audience with Betty Carter. "Bet-Car MK1003.
THE SHOW -- Friday through Sunday at Blues Alley.
Carmen McRae once said of Betty Carter that she is "the only real jazz singer." Listening to her recent live album, one gets so carried away as to think of her as the only real singer. Period. It's this very ability to control, manipulate and alter emotions through her music that puts Carter so far ahead of her jazz compatriots, male and female.
"The Audience With Betty Carter" was recorded live at Bradshaw's Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. Envy the audience as we might, Carter's skill at shaping intimate musical thought into aural reality comes through superbly on vinyl.
Carter's won "Sounds (Movin' On)" opens the double album, taking up the A side. Initially, it's a dreamy, slow-moving piece, but just when it reaches its most ephemeral heights, Carter snaps into locomotive-paced scatting. Even some of the best jazz singers have difficulty keeping scat-singing interesting for a sustained period of time, but Carter tosses off jazz syllables with such fluency that she seems to translate entire narratives through them.
Side B offers only one Carter tune ("I Think I Got It Now"), concentrating on a more straightforward interpretation of favorites like Martin and Blane's "The Trolley Song" and a wonderfully upbeat "Everything I Have Is Yours." Accompanied only by piano (John Hicks), base (Curtis Lundy) and drums (Kenneth Washington), the music has a way of sounding plushly orchestrated, partly because the musicians are so talented, partly because of Carter's knack for sparking the imagination, letting the listener fill in the spaces.
Side C is the most conclusive evidence of Carter's jazz superiority. She approaches these songs with such spontaneity and enthusiasm that she makes it all sound easy -- and her sparkling sense of humor is always playing around the edges of her voice, even on grippers like "Can't We Talk It Over" and "Either It's Love or It Isn't.
The last sides gives new meaning to the album's title. That she chose to bill the audience first and fill the double-center sleeve with an audience photograph is indicative of the affection Carter feels for her fans (as if her music is not enough). But the title is more than just a nod of appreciation.
All fine jazz singers use their voices as instruments; Carter goes a step further and weaves her audience into her performance, making their applause, hoots, reactions and (from the sounds of it) even their gestures a part of the actual music.
Nowhere is this more beautifully displayed than on Side D's "Tight," where the very first time she sings the word, spontaneous, uncoached hand-clapping breaks out -- sharp, right on the beat and absolutely tight. It's eloquent testimony to Carter's singular ability to enthrall.
So is the unidentified voice that shouts out an awe-struck "goddam!" in the middle of a particularly hot vocal sequence. I know just what he means.