Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Jeanne LEE - Natural Affinities 1992
Jeanne Lee rose to prominence with her duet work with the pianist Ran Blake in the 60s. Blake would turn tunes into crunchy, Schoenberg-like meditations on dissonance and atonality, and Jeanne would anchor it all with her deep, smooth voice and supreme confidence. This work earned her a place on the faculty of the New England Conservatory's "Third Stream" department, and this solo album seems to reflect an academic's eclectic strategy. Instead of forming a steady band and presenting an hour-long concept, this seems to be a sampling of different projects.
"Mingus Meditations" (3.5 stars) - Jeanne delivers a reading of (what sounds like) Mingus's writings, occasionally accompanied by a bass player. Conceptually brilliant, very literary, but perhaps not that listenable.
"I Thought About You" (3 stars) - A very straightforward rendition of this familiar standard, with a typical jazz combo backup.
"Journey to Edaneres" (4 stars) - a long improv over a loping, exotic latin groove. Eventually another female vocalist enters and she and Jeanne intertwine their lines. Another track that is as much poetry slam as song.
"Peace Chorale" (5 stars) - by far the best thing on the album, the only "must have" IMO. It's an ABA form - the opener and closer is a slow dirge with Jeanne overdubbed[?] in medieval-sounding fifths. Here she sings about a traditional agricultural existence. The middle is a parodistic rocking-horse groove that ridicules contemporary economics and the evaporation of the "peace dividend." Musically, it's very appealing, and the topic is very unusual for the world of improv. (If you like this, Jeanne did a similar unaccompanied track on You Stepped out of a Cloud)
"Free Space" (3 stars) - now we start to get into two overtly free group improvs. This one is up-tempo (which is often a disaster) and is marred by dumb lyrics about free improv itself.
"Trilogy" (4 stars) - this is more like it. a slow, gnarly meditation on the subject of beauty. You can smell the incense.
"Ambrosia Mama" (3.5 stars) - a bossa nova that kicks into a samba at the end. Jeanne's voice is well-suited to this idiom, but sometimes her method of enunciation packs a bit too much punch, disrupting the smooth surface.
By Milltone Blabbit.
All instruments are, naturally, a mere approximation of what can be done with the human voice; yet in avant garde improvisation, it is the saxophonists and pianists who are credited with being the innovators. Artists like Jeanne Lee, Patty Waters and Julie Tippetts are often shunted aside to make way for counterparts Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, and Evan Parker... men with horns.
Of those three vocal artists, Lee was always the most grounded in jazz vocal tradition, able to remain true to both lyrical expression and a strong blues feeling while also engaging the wordless properties of the voice. Natural Affinities is one of a scant few albums Lee has led or co-led, though luckily her appearances as sideman on numerous sessions leave us with many troughs to mine in her absence.
Recently reissued domestically, this recording is a solid showcase of just how far Lee cast her stylistic net, ranging from free improvisation to straight ahead readings of standards. She is joined here by a few of the usual suspects multi-instrumentalist Gunter Hampel (with whom she recorded regularly throughout the '70s and '80s), alto saxophonist Mark Whitecage, bassist Lisle Atkinson, and drummer Newman Baker are the meat of the group, though there are some all-star appearances as well.
The set starts off with a high-water mark, though admittedly on paper a dubious prospect, her half-sung, half-spoken reading of excerpts from Mingus' Beneath the Underdog in Mingus Meditations, a duet with bassist Dave Holland, is superb. Though a far cry from her 1962 duets with Ran Blake, it is still proof that she may be at her best in a duo or small-group setting. However, there is very little of Lee's trademark extended technique here; if you are searching for wordless lip- and throat-improvisation, you should look elsewhere. Even when joined in a fairly freewheeling group improvisation, as in Trilogy with Wadada Leo Smith, Atkinson, and Baker, she sings the lyrics rather straight through as the group skitters around her lines. This does create an interesting tension, but some of the variety of past performances is missing.
The one standard performed here, I Thought About You, is given a very straight reading, in a duet with her cousin, pianist-vocalist Paul Broadnax. Unfortunately, it lacks some of the brashness and humor that mark some of her other recordings in similar settings.
If you are new to the world of Jeanne Lee, this recording would be a very worthwhile disc to investigate, for her contribution to the lineage of jazz vocals and improvised music is made clear. It may be a bit unfair to compare this record, one of her last recorded works, with a back catalog spanning 20 or 30 years, but truth be told it just doesn't have the same weight.
By Clifford Allen.
Jeanne Lee- Vocals
Gunter Hampel- Vibraphone & Flute
Wadada Leo Smith- Trumpet (tracks: 4a, 4c, 5, 6)
Mark Whitecage- Alto Sax (tracks: 4b, 5)
Amina Claudine Myers- pianos & Vocals
Paul Broadnax- Piano & Vocals (tracks: 2
Jerome Harris- Guitar
Dave Holland- Bass
Nadja Smith- Newspeak
Lisle Atkinson- Bass (tracks: 2 to 7)
Newman Baker- Drums (tracks: 2 to 7)
01. Mingus Meditations 12:04
Bass - Dave Holland
Lyrics By - C. Mingus
Music By - D. Holland , J. Lee
02. I Thought About You 5:02
Music By, Lyrics By - J. Van Heusen , J. Mercer
Piano, Vocals - Paul Broadnax
03. Journey To Edaneres 12:20
Engineer - John Teagle
Lyrics By - J. Lee
Mixed By - David Baker , Katsuhito Naito
Music By - G. Hampel
Piano, Vocals - Amina Claudine Myers
Vibraphone, Flute - Gunter Hampel
Peace Chorale I - Bushwhacked - Peace Chorale II (8:30)
04. A Peace Chorale I 2:10
Lyrics By - Lao Tse
Music By - J. Clayton
B Bushwhacked 4:45
Lyrics By - J. Lee
Music By - M. Whitecage
Voice [Newspeak] - Nadja Smith
C Peace Chorale II 1:30
Lyrics By - Lao Tse
Music By - J. Clayton
05. Free Space 2:48
Music By, Lyrics By - L. Sharon Freeman
06. Trilogy 10:39
Music By, Lyrics By - L. Smith
07. Ambrosia Mama (Celebration Of A State Of Grace) 8:00
Guitar - Jerome Harris
Lyrics By - N. Shange
Music By - J. Lee