Nora McCarthy | Circle Completing

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Circle Completing

by Nora McCarthy

An original, creative and soulful vocal artist, composer, lyricist, improviser & poet. Nora\'s richly seasoned sound possesses the earthiness of an early blues singer with the articulation, phrasing and timbre of the jazz trumpet.
Genre: Jazz: Jazz Vocals
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Come Fly With Me
Nora McCarthy & John diMartino
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6:21 album only
2. To Be With You
Nora McCarthy & John diMartino
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5:38 album only
3. Too Late Now
Nora McCarthy & John diMartino
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7:09 album only
4. Hawaiian Wedding Song
Nora McCarthy
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3:38 album only
5. Little Red Rooster
Nora McCarthy
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4:22 album only
6. In the Early Morning Light
Nora McCarthy
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3:48 album only
7. The Shadow of Your Smile
Nora McCarthy
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5:18 album only
8. Life Is a Song to Sing
Nora McCarthy
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4:46 album only
9. Faith in Time - Jimmy's Song
Nora McCarthy
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7:42 album only


Album Notes
Scott Yanow, Author of nine jazz books including Trumpet Kings, Swing, Bebop, Jazz On Record 1917-76 and Jazz On Film


Known as a brilliant improviser with a warm and highly expressive voice, Nora McCarthy recently released her newest recording, Circle Completing. The set of duets with pianist John DiMartino sums up Ms. McCarthy’s colorful story so far, is a tribute to the legendary singer Jimmy Scott, and is a consistently surprising look at life’s lessons. “One has to experience life before singing these types of songs,” says Nora.

Circle Completing, which is comprised of three of the singer’s originals plus six standards, is a very spontaneous set that emerged with a unified purpose. “We recorded all of the music in four hours,” remembers Nora,” and several of the songs came out of nowhere.” Starting with “Come Fly With Me,” an optimistic dream of having a perfect relationship, Circle Completing includes the soul ballad “To Be With You” (which was associated with Joe Cuba), a wistful and lyrical rendition of “Too Late Now,” “Hawaiian Wedding Song” (which looks back to the singer’s musical beginnings), a playful rendition of the blues “Little Red Rooster,” and her haunting original “In The Early Morning Light,” a spoken word piece which is about infidelity, having one’s heart broken, and dealing with new realities. On “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” a standard about lost love, she interprets the words and then creates some scatting that is heartfelt improvising which perfectly fits the song. Nora concludes the memorable set with her philosophical “Life Is A Song To Song” and her poetic tribute to Jimmy Scott, “Faith In Time (Jimmy’s Song).”

But more than the individual songs, Circle Completing is a moody suite that deals with the evolution of life, coming to a place of forgiveness, letting go, and ultimately moving on to the next level. “Every day you have to forgive yourself and everybody. One has to concentrate on compassion. Jimmy Scott is the living embodiment of that, how he suffered and yet rose above it all.” While Nora McCarthy has worked extensively in duets with bassist Juini Booth, saxophonist Jorge Sylvester and bassist Dominic Duval, her collaboration with John diMartino has its own personality. “No matter who you put John with, he sounds different than anyone else. 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.”

Nora McCarthy has thus far had a very productive and significant musical career. She grew up in Cleveland, sang Hawaiian songs professionally with her father-in-law, worked extensively in local jazz clubs, and moved to New York in 1994. A poet and a songwriter in addition to being a singer, she recorded red&blue, became part of the New York avant-garde scene without losing her roots in standards, recorded duets with Jorge Sylvester that were inspired by the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky (A Small Dream In Red), and worked with such groups as the 20-piece orchestra ConceptualMotion (which she co-leads and co-founded), Kuumba Frank Lacy’s Vibe Tribe, Butch Morris’ A Chorus Of Poets, the Next Legacy Jazz Orchestra, the ACE (Afro-Caribbean-Experimental) Collective, in addition to her own Qu’ART’et.

While Circle Completing can be considered Nora McCarthy’s most accessible recording to date due to her love for standards and the tradition, her adventurous singing, the spontaneous interplay with John diMartino, and the unpredictability of the music result in the innovative duets being full of subtle surprises.

"...Nora's vocal identity, aside from a basic jazz orientation, defies classification, and makes spare use of reflexive stylistic mannerisms. In the placement of her voice, Nora can evoke the power of a Malian Diva's fearless candor, or perhaps a Corsican Voceratrice's call to invisible worlds in the language of dreams, or the earthiness of an early blues singer's unvarnished autobiographical witness. She has been attentive to the fluid articulation, phrasing and timbre of the jazz trumpet, the instrument that most clearly has influenced her vocal development. Her shaping of pitch often foregoes the fluid note-bending of the jazz singer in favor of the full press of a sculptor's touch against viscous clay." Ramsey Ameen, former violinist with Cecil Taylor’s Unit and 3 Phasis, mathematician and scholar. A Gathering of the Tribes Magazine, 2005.


"Nora's vocal identity, aside from a basic jazz orientation, defies classification, and makes spare use of reflexive stylistic mannerisms. In the placement of her voice, Nora can evoke the power of a Malian Diva's fearless candor, or perhaps a Corsican Voceratrice's call to invisible worlds in the language of dreams, or the earthiness of an early blues singer's unvarnished autobiographical witness. She has been attentive to the fluid articulation, phrasing and timbre of the jazz trumpet, the instrument that most clearly has influenced her vocal development. Her shaping of pitch often foregoes the fluid note-bending of the jazz singer in favor of the full press of a sculptor's touch against viscous clay." Ramsey Ameen, musician and former violinist with Cecil Taylor. 12/2005 A Gathering of the Tribe's Magazine

"...COMPLETE PASSION! ABSOLUTE CREATIVITY! TOTAL CONFIDENCE!" ... Niranjan Jhaveri (10/06) Jazz critic, author, lecturer, educator, panelist and organizer (director) of JazzYatra Festivals - Founder of Jazz India Vocal Institute (JIVI)

"...A SUPERB ARTIST!!" Joao Da Penha - (2008) Jazz & Bossa Nova Radio Program Brasil

"...Nora McCarthy sings with an emphatic delivery. She interprets lyrics with fits of passion and relaxes casually with wordless sprees. She uses her fluid delivery to jump effortlessly to the highest and lowest regions of her vocal range. McCarthy's "Miles Mind" carries a significant impression, as her voice recalls the frailty found in Davis' horn through the years." Jim Santella, Jazz Improv Magazine, July, 2007

"...McCarthy, who works in every setting from a saxophone and vocal duo to a twenty-piece orchestra, demonstrates that she is not one to simply serenade with the usual mix of standards." Dan Bilawski, Jazz Improv Magazine, March, 2007

"...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." Frank Rubolino, Cadence, April, 2000 "The Review of Jazz & Blues: Creative Improvised Music

"...She plays her tender instrument, like a musician trying to get the best out of some favored old horn." Edward Hill, The Cleveland Plain Dealer Arts Section

"...Continental and sophisticated, McCarthy is as much chanteuse as jazz singer." The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"...A voice that is alternately liquid, breezy, and lustrous. Sophistication in the same vein as Chet Baker." Sound Views Magazine

"...Yet another voice in the retro-cool school "almost at times, as cool as Julie London, but with a serpentine edge". Gary Giddins, The Village Voice, Voice Choices.

"...Nora McCarthy has a deep voice, with the timbre and range of Sarah Vaughan's. She uses ever-so-subtle pitch-bending and straight tones and just a lovely touch of vibrato." International Society For Improvised Music

"...Nora McCarthy delivers with the improvisational intuition of Betty Carter and the compassion of Billie Holiday. 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." The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"...It's delightful to hear music that plays so freely with the known and the unknown elements of jazz." All About Jazz Magazine, NY

"...A non-generic and exciting vocalist to be aware of." All About Jazz And L.A. Jazz Scene


to write a review

john Cox

Circle completing
Highly musical and thought through, this CD opens ears, mind and heart to a fresh understanding. It is quite unlike anything else I know and offers new entertainments and satisfactions on every play. - John Cox, Southampton, UK.

Sounds of Timeless Jazz

Jazz Beyond From Straight To Smooth
As a prominent member of the New York jazz scene, Nora McCarthy continues to enjoy the well-deserved acclaim she is receiving for her latest recording CIRCLE COMPLETING. The recording offers listeners 9 duet renditions of your favorite jazz standards and several new songs penned by McCarthy. Joined by pianist John di Martino, the duo swings on “Come Fly With Me,” gets down right bluesy and gritty on “Little Red Rooster,” and soothes the soul on ballads such as “Too Late Now,” and “The Shadow of Your Smile.” McCarthy’s vocals are rich and subtle and laced with varying degrees of earthy blues and soulful phrasings. This CD will be enjoyed by those who appreciate a set filled with quiet moods and laidback emotions.

Dan Singer

SINGER'S SINGERS - Dan Singer from New York City turns the spotlight on some overlooked singers of the past and some bright newcomers. Amongst Dan's picks this month include Billy Eckstine and Nora McCarthy.

Nora is heard here to great advantage on nine songs. She does wonders with only the all knowing pianist John di Martino. I never heard the verse to "Come Fly With Me" (Cahn/Van Heusen). It creates brand new meanings for this charming Sinatra workhorse. Nora hits all the proper notes to a tee. In fact, midway she has a swinging fun filled heck of a scat. The ballad "Too Late Now" (Lerner/Lane) is a charmer. Reminding me very much of the late lamented Irene Kral, Nora provocatively sings this melancholy ballad in full throttle. A real surprising treat is her take on the song "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" (Hoffman/Manning/King). Nora's version is most unlike the remembered 1958 Cadence Records hit by Andy Williams. Her Hawaiian language vocal is unexpected making her take more meaningful. Her "Little Red Rooster" (Dixon) exhibits her knowledge of the blues. This is a wonderful blues allowing Nora to let it all hang out mid-song in a scat that will have you shouting and screaming right along with her. Finally she sings an emotionally laden "The Shadow of Your Smile" (Mandel/Webster) from the 1965 film "The Sandpiper". It's a crowning glory to a wonderful original CD.

Mark Saleski = Jazz/com

During a recent conversation with a friend, we got into the worth of poetry. He wondered why anybody would bother with a "clever" rendering of something when a more direct description would suffice. I tried to steer him to the fact that most poetry attempts to distill a particular idea to its essence (something lost on most high-schoolers, who are drowned early on in things like rhyme schemes and other poetic minutiae). A good poet can tell a story with a minimum of text. So when Nora McCarthy tells the story of lies that have been "swept under the carpet / all scramble like roaches in the early morning light," she extends the idea in a couple of directions at once – with a kind of vocalese, aided by skittery piano bits. The presentation says far more than a couple of paragraphs could, that's for sure.

Bill Donaldson - Jazz Inside

The only constant for Nora McCarthy is change, and that’s just the way she wants it. An original who continues to explore human thought and feeling in varying artistic forms and instrumental configurations, McCarthy most recently has chosen to record songs, as well as her own compositions, of her choosing accompanied solely by pianist John di Martino.
McCarthy is a fearless singer who deftly refuses to be categorized as she explores personalized means for expressing ideas. She travels infrequently heard avenues for exploring thought and adapts vocal technique to fit the circumstances of her message. Circle Completing starts conventionally enough with an affecting performance of “Come Fly with Me,” complete with the seldom heard verse. The musical situation for Circle Completing is set. as di Martino’s comping allows for freedom and support for McCarthy, particularly during her comfortable, middle-range scat chorus. And so, it seems, Circle Completing will be a salon type of recital of standards, with McCarthy’s burnished alto carrying the tracks. And so it is. To a point. “To Be with You” and “Too Late Now” follow a similar format of mid-volume, mid-range descriptions of situations leading to evoked emotions. For example, “to be with you for just one hour of each day” leads directly to the point: “I need you so.” McCarthy deserves much credit for understanding the power of the song’s intended feelings and for delivering them softly, slowly, forcefully. However, things change after that song. Gradually. Almost imperceptibly. McCarthy sneaks in “The Hawaiian Wedding Song”—a song seldom heard recently—with the same modest charm applied to those preceding it. It turns out that McCarthy pays tribute to her three Hawaiian sons by singing it, and she brings out this previously unknown facet of her personal life by its inclusion on the album. Delivered with the same painstaking and straightforward attention to lyrics, in English and Hawaiian, by her unadorned elongation of notes, the song leads gradually into the freer and more adventurous remaining tracks, as if easing the listener into them. McCarthy covers the blues with “Little Red Rooster,” backed by the earthiness of di Martino’s bar-room-style piano. More importantly, McCarthy starts departing from the melody with a brief ululating “oooo” after the word “howl.” Notes start to be bent. The even volume of the preceding songs gives way to hushed “yeah’s” contrasting with sudden shouts. The initial songs’ romance and matrimony lead to bawdiness. Strict adherence to words disappears as scatting happens. And so Circle Completing goes through a gradual progression from conventionality to improvisation, from standards to blues, from tonal adherence to form to freedom. Then she ignores all of the rules, and we’re in full Nora McCarthy mode, inimitable and original. Her own “In the Morning Light” emphasizes the melodic element of poetry, as she sings images with intervallic leaps, her wide range finally employed. Obviously, di Martino is familiar with this side of McCarthy, with whom she has worked in the past, notably on her 1996 CD, Red&Blue. He supports the combination of verbal description and pitch by the use of harmonies at time borrowed from Bill Evans’s introduction to “So What.” McCarthy clicks and wails and sighs and hints at atonality, never resolving a phrase where one would expect and adding drama to observations like “and lies swept under the carpet all scramble like roaches in the early morning light.” (Sung in intervals of fifths with soft sonic imitations of scurrying.) Now we hear the fearless originality associated with McCarthy from past recordings. Then McCarthy goes back to standards, in this case “The Shadow of Your Smile,” sung darkly, deliberately in largo tempo, words cushioned with unembellished delivery—until she delivers her wordless chorus in her middle and lower range as if she were crafting a burnished lyrical trumpet solo. The remainder of Circle Completing is completely McCarthy as she interprets her own compositions. The jazz waltz “Life Is a Song to Sing,” correlating McCarthy’s passion for music with characteristics of fulfilled living, is notable for its extended metaphor, presented voice particularly enhances her own song as she avoids extremes of pitch, establishing delicacy of feeling and felicity of thought about avoiding complacency: “For every dream to realize / You have to fly away.” McCarthy ends Circle Completing with yet another sung tribute, like her homage to Billie Holiday, “Billie.” This time her subject is the influential but long-struggling singer Jimmy Scott. McCarthy abbreviates Scott’s biography, mentioning in song his being a “motherless child,” “living his life in jazz clubs,” “happiness lost, then found,” “dead-end jobs,” “marriages and break-ups” and then “blessings came” after “thirty years come and went.” Written poetically, expressed in song, “Faith in Time” consists of a series of melodies stitched together to conform to the rhythm of the words in rubato style as di Martino follows her lead. Eventually, McCarthy concludes Scott’s artistry-from-hardship story with its “taking its place among the greats of all time.” Her point is well taken. Another Jimmy Scott enthusiast, I concur heartily. And heartily is how McCarthy approaches any song she sings, as she loses herself in it. Circle Completing provides further evidence of that virtue.