John di Martino - Piano and background vocals on "I'll Close My Eyes"
Mike Lee - Tenor saxophone
Essiet Okan Essiet - Bass
Sato Takeishi - percussion
Nora McCarthy - voice
Compositions and Lyrics - Nora McCarthy (except for "I'll Close My Eyes", and "Born To Be Blue)(lyric for Isis taken from D. H. Lawrence poem "Don Juan")
Arranged and Produced by Nora McCarthy
McCarthy knows exactly how to capture an audience. She uses here quality voice, a solid array of musicians, and original materials to do it. On red&blue, she assembled an excellent group of artists who support her silken style to perfection while getting plenty of improvising space to enhance the rich melodies. For material, she elected to feature primarily her own moody tunes that give the recording a very fresh sound with their pensive lyrics. Ballads are McCarthy's forte. She develops them into love songs with effortless guile, gliding smoothly through her lyrics to set the requited or unrequited love stage. Her tunes have the quality of becoming familiar quickly, capturing your attention from the start with their attractive melody lines. Her smooth tone and delightfully sounding voice are the traits that make her music a pleasure to hear. McCarthy displays the gift for being both a composer and lyricist. She is equated in the liner notes with a number of great vocalists, yet I found her voice unique with its sullen overtones and sensuous quality. ......Frank Rubolino, Cadence, April, 2000 "The Review of Jazz & Blues: Creative Improvised Music"
A very personal and expressive voice, Nora "Red" McCarthy has a sultry, sensuous, noir-ish approach that fuses Sarah Vauhan, Abbey Lincoln and Billie Holiday with the 1950s "cool singing" of Chris Connor and Julie London And yet, red&blue has an impressionistic, poetic quality that shows an awareness of post-bop developments of the 1960s, '70s and '80s. One of the impressive things about this CD is the fact that Red does most of her own writing, and she demonstrates how much potential she has as a lyricist on everything from the seductive "Bedroom Eyes", and the Wayne Shorter-esque "Isis" (written from a D.H. Lawrence poem "Don Juan", 1912) to her poignant ode to Billie Holiday "Billie". With "the glut of female jazz singers out there", Red is a non-generic and exciting vocalist to be aware of. Alex Henderson, All About Jazz and L.A. Jazz Scene
...red&blue is a reissue of a 1996 release that could have been recorded in 1960. Sung and mostly written by NYC-based Nora "Red" McCarthy, this is acoustic jazz in the classic American mold--when every female singer was obliged to walk in the footsteps of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Red is backed by a first-rate quintet who work in a mellow be-bop framework, providing an open field for counterpoint without grandstanding. Special note goes to John di Martino on piano, whose timing and phrasing is ideally suited to the daring approach Red takes to the nine songs on the record. Whereas most singers establish the main theme first and save the vocal dazzle for the variations, Red deconstructs the melody almost immediately, using (and hitting) every note that is reasonably at the song's disposal with a vocal that is alternately liquid, breezy, and lustrous. She neither wails nor belts, and often steps aside to provide the piano, bass, sax and percussion a place in the sun. This even-handed strategy towards each song's melodic possibilities creates a jazz record that is blue yet sophisticated in the same vein as Chet Baker -- Mel Torme, whose "Born To Be Blue" (which Torme co-wrote with Bob Wells) concludes the package. A coolly oblique record that somehow manages to warmly engaging, too. ....Mark Keating, Editor, Sound Views Magazine, March, 2001
While Nora “Red” McCarthy might not have instant name-recognition, she has been a steady fixture on the New York music scene for quite some time. Red & Blue, an album that McCarthy recorded in 1996, is heavy on sultry sounds and vocal styling that could be described as, both, cool and comforting. McCarthy, who works in every setting from a bass and vocal duo to a twenty-piece orchestra, demonstrates that she is not one to simply serenade with the usual mix of standards. “Bedroom Eyes,” which is the first of many McCarthy originals on the album, introduces us to her slightly hushed, yet hypnotic, vocal stylings. McCarthy, who never gets above a moderate volume level, demonstrates a great deal of finesse and control from the get-go and the band instantly provides the firm accompaniment that she deserves. Mike Lee’s saxophone work, and McCarthy’s voice, briefly dance around one another and create some musical magic. “Billie,” which is McCarthy’s “ode to Billie Holiday,” is a tribute, not an imitation, and she remains firm in the stylings and trappings that worked so well on the opener. “Noir-ish” is a term that has been applied to this singer and this can clearly be heard on this track. “Holiday From Love” begins with a slight musical punch, provided by the band. McCarthy contrasts this powerful entrance with some slight and whispery, yet sassy and firm, declarations. “Isis,” which takes lyrical direction from the work of D. H. Lawrence, features some of McCarthy’s best music writing on the album. Her modern sensibilities, harmonically and melodically speaking, make a great showing on this track.
“Roads,” an original with a light and airy waltz-feel, features some nice bass soloing from Essiet Essiet and some nice musical coloring from percussionist Sato Takeishi. A bit of Brazil, both in spirit and style, sneaks into “My Dream.” This is the clear highlight of the album – and McCarthy, with her musical comrades, turns in a flawless performance. Alex Henderson, who is quoted in McCarthy’s liner notes, used “impressionistic” as a word to describe this album. “Something Red” might have been the song that was playing when that very word came to mind. This song, performed at a slumbering tempo, is a precise encapsulation of that word. While McCarthy spends the majority of the album flexing her compositional muscles, in addition to her vocal skills, she chooses to close the album with two well-known standards. “I’ll Close My Eyes,” the first of the two standards, receives a lovely interpretation from McCarthy and some fine saxophone solos from Lee. “Born To Be Blue” transmits late-night musical sentiments and gets the general bluesy treatment that it deserves. John diMartino’s piano glides beneath, and around, McCarthy’s voice and this duo performance serves as a fine ending to a solid outing. By Dan Bilawsky/Jazz Improv Magazine’s New York Jazz Guide, March 2007
..."Nora McCarthy delivers with the improvisational intuition of Betty Carter and the compassion of Billie Holiday. She plays her tender voice like a musician trying to get the best out of some favored, old horn. McCarthy tackles harmonically complex material of Thelonius Monk with relative ease then easily slips into a relaxed Latin style that owes much to Brazilian samba queen Astrud Gilberto." Edward Hill, The Cleveland Plain Dealer Arts Magazine
..."yet another voice in the retro-cool school-almost at times, as cool as Julie London, but with a serpentine edge (she has a charming CD called - what else - red&blue". Gary Giddins, The Village Voice
..."Her heartfelt performance of "Meaning of the Blues" was as convincing as it was polished, and she draped her mesmerizing alto effectively over a pretty medley of "Waiting for You," Touching" and "On My Way to You". That medley of tunes by, respectively, Toninho Horta, Neal Creque and Michel Legrand encapsulates McCarthy's aspirations. The tunes are continental, sophisticated, and McCarthy is as much chanteuse as jazz singer." Carlo Wolf, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Jazz Preview