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Crissy Lee and Her All-Female Orchestra: Things Are Getting Better

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As if to confirm the promise of drummer Crissy Lee’s debut recording, the moment I placed it in the drawer of my CD player and pressed “play,” things started getting appreciably better around my house. Ms. Lee has marshaled quite a talented array of sharpshooters, and one can sense a seriousness of purpose among them that says “we’re no novelty act, pal.” In other words, these aren’t “female musicians” but first–class musicians who happen to be female. And if the album title is meant to suggest that things are getting better for women in Jazz, that is welcome news indeed. This is a marvelous coming–out party in spite of pesky recording imbalances and at least one major flaw (in my copy, at least) that interposes some unwelcome static on “Groove Blues.” The album was recorded, it says, at one venue, “The Stables,” Wavendon, but was evidently parceled out on several occasions with various personnel and with at least one selection, Chick Corea’s “Spain,” performed for an audience. The vocal tracks tend to be more strident (not the vocalists; the band), as if either the auditorium had somehow been reconfigured or other hands were at the controls. Whatever the reason, the sound quality varies noticeably from track to track. Fortunately, the most persuasive numbers are also the best–recorded including the title selection, the aforementioned “Spain,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Stolen Moments,” Frank Foster’s “Shiny Stockings,“ Sammy Nestico’s “Blues Machine” and, of all things, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” (which isn’t half bad without its hackneyed lyrics). Not quite so well–recorded are two other swingers, “Out of Town” and “Leave Us Leap.” A shame that soloists aren’t named, as several of them are exemplary, especially the alto sax on “Things Are Getting Better,” flugel and flute on “Stolen Moments,” trumpet on “Shiny Stockings” and “Out of Town,” and trombone on “Blues Machine.” The rhythm section (Lee, bassist Paula Gardiner, pianist Meredith White) is sure–handed and steady as a rock. Gardiner is a standout on “Shiny Stockings,” White on “San Francisco.” Interesting (to me, at least) that two of the most accomplished all–female big bands should be led by drummers — Sherrie Maricle (DIVA) and Lee (there are at least two other topnotch ensembles that I know of, Maiden Voyage and Germany’s United Women’s Orchestra, both led by saxophonists). DIVA, though, has one large advantage over Lee’s band — Maricle employs no singers. There are four vocals on Things Are Getting Better, each of which might best be subtitled “but not on this number.” I don’t mean to dump on anyone, but Lee’s two vocalists (I don’t know who sings what) are nondescript and superfluous, and their attempts to sing the blues are fairly pathetic. Gosh, it seems I dumped on them anyway (otherwise known as being brutally honest). Other than that (and the fact that the jacket, tray and sleeve notes seem to have been slapped together rather hastily), there are no complaints. This is an admirable big–band date in which gender plays no part; we warmly recommend it while looking forward to Crissy Lee’s next enterprise.

Track listing: Things Are Getting Better; Sweet Georgia Brown; Stolen Moments; Sing, Sing, Sing (new vocal version); Steppin’ Out, Steppin’ In; Spain; Shiny Stockings; The Blues Machine; Moondance; Out of Town; I Left My Heart in San Francisco; Groove Blues; Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans; Leave Us Leap (68:52).

Personnel:

Crissy Lee, leader, drums, percussion; Sarah Kelly, Alison Neale, Alison Adams, Rachel Musson, Anna Brooks, Martha Kitching, Louise Male, Josephine Davies, Jo Fooks, Ali Brown, Katie Ainscough, Suzanne Higgins, Mel Henry, Nicki Wedrychowski, reeds; Annette

Record Label: MCPS

Style: Big Band


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