Kitty Margolis is absolutely on fire in front of an audience. On Heart & Soul: Live In San Francisco,
she blazes, perhaps surprising the listener who had become accustomed to her more recent studio recordings. But Margolis has returned to her roots, and to the roots of Mad-Kat Records, which she formed with vocalist Madeline Eastman in 1988 when Margolis released her live album at the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco.
Sixteen years later, Margolis is releasing an live recording from a San Francisco jazz club, this time at the Broadway Studios Nightclub. The audience appeared to be primed, and it required only the slightest encouragement from Margolis before its members released their outpouring of applause and laughter. When the club presenter announces, "Ladies and gentlemen, my good friend: Kitty Margolis!" the celebratory atmosphere, suggesting that this were more than a mere club date even though it wasn’t, arises. From the beginning of "Love Walked In" accompanied only by drummer Allison Miller, Margolis captures their imagination, first of all by singing around
the song’s first note, as if teasing them, and then delighting them with the suggestiveness of ".... and scared the sssssssshhhhhhhhh-adows away." The coy reference was entirely intentional just 27 seconds into the CD, Margolis waiting for the laughter to subside before entering into the subsequent phrase. And that was just the beginning. Once her full rhythm section enters, Margolis pursues the opportunities of the song as an improvisational adventure, finally ending her first section with no less than a thrilling guttural exhalation, pitchless and energizing.
Using all of the devices at her command, Margolis possesses the rare ability to reshape a song as it were clay into a creation of her own imagination--and still connect immediately with her audience. The comparisons of Margolis’ style to Betty Carter’s are validated when she sings "Heart And Soul," well known as often the first song amateurs play on piano. Margolis’ version, though, slows it down for full attention to the value of each note, which floats and swells seemingly at its own tempo above the foundation of the rhythm section. The same thing happens on "Secret Love," when Margolis abandons traditional versions of the song for a looser infusion of feeling that understates, the emotional implications of the song’s meaning inherent in the personalized interpretation, rather than overtly stated.
But then Margolis sings what the audience wants to hear, the realization of her songs’ aptness not perceptible until after they have been sung. There’s "I’m Always Drunk In San Francisco," delivered to a perhaps slightly inebriated San Francisco audience, even though she ends with the ironic "I don’t drink at all." There are the entertaining lyrics of Mose Allison’s "Your Mind Is On Vacation," complete with attention to his diction on the word "a" when she sings "You know, if silence were golden/You couldn’t raise A dime/Because your mind is on vacation/And your mouth is working overtime." And the tour de force of the evening, if one dare choose, is Margolis’ version of "Surrey With The Fringe On Top," sung over Miller’s New Orleans street march beat. Not only does she include rarely sung additional choruses, but also once again, she pays attention to the power of words, adopting Oklahoma’s
pronunciations of "yellow" as "yeller" and "genuine" as "gen-u-wine."
Then there’s her sped-up arrangement of "Summertime," dependent on Jon Evans’ prodding bass lines and allowing for unfettered scatting, stretching her ideas and her sounds over as many measures as she likes and including quotes foreshadowing the upcoming "Surrey With The Fringe On Top."
Margolis has assembled a back-up group that’s intuitive and malleable, changing shapes and sonic textures as often as does Margolis, which can sometimes happen in the blink of an eye. Pianist Michael Bluestein possesses the accompanist’s gift of making the singer sound better than she would have otherwise while he stays out of the way until it’s his time to solo.
It’s not often that a jazz singer’s live recording contain the snap and abundance of ideas immediately received by an audience that Margolis’ offers. Even though it is early in 2004 for predictions, her Heart & Soul
invigorating that it no doubt will be considered as one of the top jazz vocal albums of the year.