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Jazz singing is as much about personality, style and attitude as it is about technique. And while Canadian singer Ranee Lee has plenty of chops, it's her personal flair and sense of drama that makes her new Justin Time release such a rousing success.
Dark Divas is drawn from a stage show in which Lee pays tribute to seven of her jazz singing idols. Backed by a tight swing septet, the Brooklyn-born Lee, a long-time resident of Montreal, tackles classic material by female jazz greats from Josephine Baker to Ella Fitzgerald. Rather than imitating her heroes, she attempts to capture the essence of what makes them so unique, whether it's Dinah Washington's bluesy showmanship or Lena Horne's elegance and sophistication.
An accomplished actress, Lee is at her best on those songs that call for the most dramatic role-playing, whether it's sexy and sultry a la Billie Holiday on "Fine and Mellow" or bold and brassy a la Pearl Bailey on "What Happened to the Hair on the Head of the Man I Love?" She even has the chops, and the daring, to take on the most daunting and musical of female jazz vocalists - Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald - on a quartet of songs, concluding with tour de force romp through "Oh Lady, Be Good," with playful scatting to make Ella proud.
It would be easy for an exercise like this to slip into mere mimicry, but Lee has the smarts to treat the original performances as starting points for her own, rather than destinations, and the talent to pull it off in grand fashion.
Personnel: Ranee Lee, vocals; Richard Ring, guitar; Tilden Webb, piano; Mike Downes, bass; Dave Laing, drums; Richard Beaudet, sax and clarinet; Muhammad Abdul al-Khabyr, trombone; Ron DiLauro, drums.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.