Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Art of the Storyteller in Song: Kate McGarry's Trio "The Subject Tonight is Love" at the Velvet Note in Alpharetta, GA

Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz and Gary Versace The Subject Tonight is Love Binxtown Records
The songstress Kate McGarry is one of those rare performers whose heartfelt interpretation of the lyrics and earnest vocal delivery capture you in a very visceral way. She has a tonally pure voice that she employs to portray everything from innocence to sultriness, wiliness to wonder and passion to pain. But at the very heart of her musical strengths is her authenticity, a sincerity that cannot be faked. When this woman sings a song, she is not just miming the words, she has absorbed them into her being and her voice  brings you into their essence in a deeply personal way.

Kate McGarry
I have had the opportunity to see Ms. McGarry previously, at this very same venue back in July of 2016 when, at the time, she and Mr. Ganz were doing a tour as a quartet with the vocalist Tierney Sutton and the guitarist Serge Merland. You can check out that review by clicking here. I was taken by the remarkable affinity her and Mr. Ganz had when they did songs like Kenny Dorham’s “Fair Weather” and at the time I wrote “Her voice has an earnest quality that captivates the listener, spinning imagery and wonder that recalls the best qualities of a great storyteller.”

Fast forward to 2018 and McGarry is as wizened a storyteller as ever. The addition of another sympathetic voice with the keyboard work of Gary Versace just adds to the beautiful dynamic that this trio has created on their new album The Subject Tonight is Love, which was released yesterday and was the basis for much of the show that I caught.

The album was inspired by a poem from the fourteenth century Persian poet Hafez titled “The Subject Tonight is Love” and is the springboard Ms. McGarry and company used in her selection of the ten songs on her album of the same name.

On the album the trio neatly bookends the music with a prologue where Ms. McGarry speaks/sings a few words about the title poem and an epilogue where the group does an impromptu and inspiring rendering of the Beatles “All You Need is Love,” McGarry’s voice with Versace on organ and piano, Ganz on drums and Ron Miles adding his clarion trumpet to the mix.

Gary Versace, Keith Ganz and Kate McGarry 
On Friday night, I attended the late show at the Velvet Note in Alpharetta. The trio will be performing another two shows on Saturday Feb 3, 2018 at the club. My suggestion is to get yourselves over there if tickets are still available. This is a show not to be missed.

The group started out with a Ganz composition Mr. Sparkle, that morphed into the canon standard What a Difference a Day Makes, arranged by Ganz with a Bossa beat. The intuitive interplay between Mr. Ganz’s guitar and Ms. McGarry’ voice being most prominent when she vocalized in sync with his improvised guitar lines; Mr. Versace, all ears, delicately comping and interjecting his own complementary lines in response.

The program continued with a song not on the album, “It Happens All the Time in Heaven” which found McGarry at her most poignant. The singer can easily evoke innocence or pathos with a turn of a phrase. She spoke of her love of the openness of jazz and you could see that openness in action. The trio respond to her every inflection with open ears and intuitive accompaniment, following her improvised phrasing seamlessly.

What is a tribute to love without a Gershwin tune like “Love Walked In” which was originally played in the 1938 musical “The Goldwyn Follies.”  Ms. McGarry’s voice donned a cabaret lustiness for this one. Mr. Ganz picked up his acoustic bass and Mr. Versace proved how facile he was playing an electric keyboard at the same time as his grand piano. Versace’s piano solo was the epitome of tasteful restraint and space. His almost Basie-like sparseness was sprinkled with some well-placed chordal dissonance that surprised and delighted.

The under the radar guitarist Steve Cardenas, wrote the music and Ms. McGarry penned the lyrics to the gorgeous “She Always Will/ The River.” Ms. McGarry is at her story telling best with this tale of maternal love and the lasting pull of home. Her voice is achingly real and moving, just beautiful. Mr. Ganz plays a wrenchingly sensitive guitar solo and Mr. Versace’s playing is crystalline in response, the three weaving their voices into a tapestry of rare beauty.

Keith Ganz and Kate McGarry
The trio did a more contemporary folk song by the Seattle raised songwriter Paul Curreri titled “God Moves on The City.” Mr. Ganz fingerpicked this roots-based song as Mr. Versace added chords and notes from both keyboards. Ms. McGarry’s voice is amazingly pliable and she takes on the Americana feel of this tome with an authentic hominess that is deserving of these moving lyrics. McGarry told me that this beautiful song will soon be released on a forth coming album.

Mining material from all eras, the next selection of the set was from a 1928 Victor Herbert song titled “Indian Summer.” The sauntering tune is like a pleasant stroll through a park with McGarry. Ganz plays bass as Versace adds a thoughtful piano/keyboard solo. Mc Garry introduces some slippery vocal inflections that just hint at scat.

The group took a Dorothy Parker lyric and put a rhumba beat to the song “I Wished at the Moon.”

The finale was the Ganz/McGarry re-imagination of the Rogers and Hart standard “My Funny Valentine.” Before introducing the song, McGarry spoke of the challenge for a vocalist to do a song like this. A song so thoroughly identified with one artist (in this case Chet Baker), and one that has been sung by countless other artists before. As she stated in the album liner notes “I never thought I would want to sing this most abused of love songs until Keith found a new doorway for me…”  For McGarry the song became more of a vehicle to express self-love. Love for the parts of ourselves that feel somehow inadequate or unloved.  

Ganz introduces a repeating guitar line with Versace adding celeste-like tones in the background before McGarry’s voice is heard reciting the unforgettable words. The pace is liquid and not rushed.  McGarry’s clear tone is transcendent as she sings these well-worn lyrics “…is your figure less than Greek, is your mouth a little weak.”  You believe that she has come to a place of confidence where she believes in herself, flaws and all. The trio plays this one with sublime sensitivity and feeling.

I found out that the brilliant poetic argument with the spectres of her Irish ancestors titled “Climb Down,” was played at the first set, so unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear her perform it live. That bluesy delve into the ancestral ghosts of one's heritage is sure to be a nominee for one of the best original songs of the year. The album is a tour de force for this talented singer who is the modern torchbearer for lost art of the singer as storyteller. If you get a chance to see these three perform live you will not be disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds (and reads) like a wonderful evening - lucky you and the audience. The new album is quite a treat but your words and images make me jealous that you got to experience the various emotions that make this trio's collaboration so "human." Thanks, Ralph, for this fine review!