Arts album review

Love is not always butterflies

Jazz trio explores every side of the emotion in their new release

The Subject Tonight Is Love
Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz, Gary Versace
Binxtown Records
Feb. 2, 2018

Vaguely, something rings. The sound fades in and out. A piano starts up with the heavy kind of tune reminiscent of a rainy documentary montage. “I know,” says a voice, like a dystopian intercom, “of no better topic for us to discuss / Until we all die.”

Thus begins The Subject Tonight Is Love, the title track of the first-ever trio album from musicians Kate McGarry, Keith Ganz, and Gary Versace. The voice, quoting Persian poet Hafiz, is McGarry’s, and only in the album’s first song does it sound oddly post-apocalyptic. Beyond that, McGarry’s voice dips and soars like Regina Spektor’s does, carving different shapes from a concrete substance: love.

According to McGarry, this record is “a jazz love letter to a hopeful 2018.” Knowing that, I expect The Subject Tonight Is Love to be predominantly cheerful, but I am pleasantly surprised. McGarry and her fellows have a mature understanding of love — their songs encapsulate all shades of the feeling.

Each piece has its own personality, supported by the talent of the trio. The work of keyboardist Versace fits seamlessly underneath Ganz’s string melodies: the trio’s take onthe jazz standard “My Funny Valentine” is a desolate one, and the instrumentalists set the scene in an appropriately solemn way. Conversely, to form the unworried air of “Mr Sparkle / What A Difference A Day Made,” Versace sets the piano aside in favor of the lighter, jauntier accordion.

Ganz and Versace play their parts softly, in a way that makes more populated music seem harsh. But while they are masters at constructing moods, McGarry is a master at living in them. Throughout the album, her voice embodies many types of love. It fills with warning in the unapologetically alcoholic “Climb Down / Whiskey You’re The Devil”; it throws out some whimsical improvisation — and an ending “whoosh” — for a song called “Gone With The Wind.” My favorite song on the record is “Losing Strategy,” a beautifully developed track with the lyric “I thought now it’s your turn to cry / The thing I most loved I just watched die.”

So McGarry’s “jazz love letter” is far from one-dimensional, but it is hopeful. Her trio seems to say, look, there are many types of love that we can sing and play and talk about: nostalgic love, young love, unconditional love, love like the atmosphere of a front porch felt in the track “Indian Summer.” Some types are good, some types are dangerous, and some types are both. They’re all love. And it’s important not to forget about that feeling.