Those who like their jazz vocals intimate will love this simply produced collection of originals and standards, which matches the well known veteran New York jazz singer Nora McCarthy with pianist John diMartino for a set that, in addition to being a graceful tribute to legendary singer Jimmy Scott, also turns the neat trick of paying homage to Nora’s roots in standards while capturing hew own colorful life story to this point. While the critically acclaimed vocalist has been an integral part of the NYC music world since the mid-90s, her story goes back much further. In the 70s, while raising her family, she took some gigs singing background in an R&B group and a pop-rock-soul band. Then in 1978, she wandered into a jazz club in Cleveland and began dedicating herself to becoming part of the local jazz scene. Soon she was leading her own gigs and quickly became one of the busiest singers in the area.
While she’s worked in a wide variety of settings over the course of her career, what sets Circle Completing apart is the spontaneity of it all—it was recorded in only four hours, as if it were just two friends, intuitive to each other’s creative and improvisational vibes, having a conversation in their living room. She’s known diMartino since she recorded her first CD red&blue in 1996. “No matter who he plays with, he always sounds different,” she says. “He is extremely creative, has a great rhythmic concept, and can do it all. He knows how to be an accompanist without sacrificing his own artistic integrity. We have our own sound together.” That’s evident from the first notes of her soaring, sparsely arranged take of the Sinatra classic “Come Fly With Me,” which gets the too-short nine track set off to a lovely start. Circle Completing also includes the dreamy, thoughtful ballad “To Be With You” and a hauntingly charming take on the Lerner and Lane song “Too Late Now.” Just when you think it’s going to be a Great American Songbook styled session, Nora helps us escape to the sunshine via a tender reading of “Hawaiian Wedding Song,” in which she pays homage to herthree Hawaiian sons in English and Hawaiian; it’s time traveling at its best, as one of Nora’s earliest professional situations was singing with her father-in-law, a Hawaiian musician.
She then tackles the blues wistfully with a spirited roll through “Little Red Rooster,” which sets up the dark, melancholymood of her graceful original “In The Early Morning Light,” a spoken word piece (she’s also a poet) about infidelity, heartbreak and facing new realities. Nora’s approach on this is unconventional but unforgettable. After returning to the realm of the very familiar (“The Shadow Of Your Smile,” which is always a welcome addition to any jazz set in any context), she concludes with two more originals, the philosophical “Life Is A Song To Sing” and her heartfelt, poetic tribute to Jimmy Scott, “Faith In Time (Jimmy’s Song).” Taken as a whole, Circle Completing is a moody suite that touches on the fascinating evolution of life, coming to a place of forgiveness, letting go and ultimately moving on to the next phase of the journey. Because of the sparse intimacy, fans of more swinging jazz arrangements may require patience to enter the Nora experience. But once their heart is hooked, it will be hard to let go.