The superb jazz singer Kate McGarry has a new trio and a new album “The Subject Tonight Is Love” (on Binxtown Records). The instrumentalists are her husband guitarist and bass player Keith Ganz and pianist, organist, and accordion player Gary Versace.
McGarry has said that the love she is referring to on the CD is not simply the romantic kind, but a response to the political and social upheaval of the last year. The album starts with a recitation of the title piece, a short poem by the 14th-century Persian poet Hafiz as translated by Daniel Ladinsky, with musical accompaniment.
The first song is an airy “Secret Love,” the Academy Award song from “Calamity Jane” by Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster. McGarry takes liberties with the rhythm, repeats some words and syllables, and alters notes. Sounding nothing like the Doris Day original, she nevertheless works her way into the heart of the song.
McGarry is a thoughtful songwriter, and “Climb Down” deals with her Irish ancestors. In the course of the song, she acknowledges her forebears’ troubled history and invites them to see all the changes that have taken place since their time. Ganz’s guitar licks and a keyboard solo by Versace add atmosphere. From this, McGarry segues into an Irish folk tune, “Whiskey You’re the Devil,” with a martial beat provided by guest drummer Obed Calvaire. Perhaps sometime she will make a whole album of folk songs, like “Folksy Nina” (Simone).
“Gone with the Wind,” a 1937 song with music by Allie Wrubel and lyrics by Herb Magidson, has often been played by jazz singers and instrumentalists, from Billie Holiday to Dave Brubeck. McGarry scats and swings so confidently that she conveys that she will overcome the breakup of her romance.
The lesser known “Fair Weather” by two hard bop giants, Benny Golson and Kenny Dorham, includes the hopeful lyric that “Hate will die and love will win” and “Money doesn’t fit in the scheme of things.” Both Versace and Ganz contribute soulful solos.
“Playing Palhaco” by noted Brazilian composer Egberto Gismonti has new lyrics by Jo Lawry. It concerns finding the real person beneath his superficial outer appearance.
“Losing Strategy #4” is a dark song, with Versace’s accordion accompaniment, about a love that cannot be rekindled.
The tour de force of the album is also its best known song: Rodgers and Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.” It sounds more haunting than ever with Ganz’s re-harmonization, the guitar solo, and McGarry’s intense singing with an added plea that he “please stay.”
Ganz’s “Mr. Sparkle” leads to an ebullient rendition of the pop standard, “What a Difference a Day Makes,” sparked by Versace’s organ. Again, it sounds nothing like the original hit version by Dinah Washington but has a magic of its own.
“She Always Will/The River” is another original about returning to your roots and contemplating the choices you made in life (the children you never had, and so on.)
“Indian Summer” is a melancholy look backward at a romance gone astray with Ganz switching to bass.
The ending of the album, an impromptu upbeat “All You Need Is Love,” adds the playful trumpet of Ron Miles to the trio.
McGarry, Ganz, and Versace will celebrate “The Subject Tonight Is Love” on Valentine’s Day, Wednesday, Feb. 14 at The Jazz Standard. McGarry is as delightful in live performances as she is on recordings and this should be a memorable evening.
The Jazz Standard
116 E. 27th St.
Information: 212-576-2232 or JazzStandard.com
Barry Bassis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications.