Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Carmen McRae

  • Carmen Sings Monk [Bluebird, 2002] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Carmen Sings Monk [Bluebird, 2002]
For those of us who admire the eminently capable McRae primarily for what she isn't--that is, a self-aggrandizing improvisor like Betty Carter or a nightclub hack like Nancy Wilson--this expanded reissue of the 13-track 1988 original is welcome because it honors Monk the melodist. Believe me, Johnny Mercer is not on board here; more than half the lyrics are by Jon Hendricks, who thinks "body loose" is a dandy rhyme for "loose goose," although his biographical takes on "Monk's Dream" and "In Walked Bud" speak enjoyably to what he knows best, which is music. The same goes for McRae, who burnishes and reshapes these great tunes subtly enough to let you know how deeply she's thought about them. Although pianist Eric Gunnison gets through way too many notes, the Al Foster-George Mraz rhythm section adds more than most of those the master gigged with, and longtime Monk saxophonist Charlie Rouse is so intimate with the material that there are times when he tops the headliner even though he never tries to upstage her. Note if you like that when I loaded this onto my iPod, where it certainly belongs, I omitted the five perfectly acceptable alternate takes, which have the effect of making the music go on too long. For an hour, it's a gift to the dead. A-