313

Jeanne Lee: Natural Affinities

Clifford Allen By

Sign in to view read count
Jeanne Lee: Natural Affinities 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.


Track Listing: 1. Mingus Meditations (Holland/Lee/Mingus) - 12:06 2. I Thought About You (Mercer/VanHeusen) - 5:04 3. Journey to Edaneres (Hampel/Lee) - 12:22 4. Peace Chorale I/Bushwacked/Peace Chorale... (Clayton/Lee/Tse/Whitecage) - 8:37 5. Free Space (Freeman) - 2:52 6. Trilogy (Smith) - 10:46 7. Ambrosia Mama/Celebration of a State of... (Lee/Shange) - 8:00

Personnel: Gunter Hampel - Flute, Vibraphone; Jerome Harris - Guitar; Dave Holland - Bass; Wadada Leo Smith - Trumpet; Newman Baker - Drums; Jeanne Lee - Vocals; Amina Claudine Myers - Piano, Vocals; Mark Whitecage - Alto Sax; Paul Broadnax - Piano, Vocals; Lisle Atkinson - Bass.

Year Released: 2003 | Record Label: Owl Records | Style: Modern Jazz


Shop

More Articles

Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 19, 2017
Read The Final Concert CD/LP/Track Review The Final Concert
by John Sharpe
Published: February 19, 2017
Read Desire & Freedom CD/LP/Track Review Desire & Freedom
by Glenn Astarita
Published: February 19, 2017
Read On Hollywood Boulevard CD/LP/Track Review On Hollywood Boulevard
by Budd Kopman
Published: February 19, 2017
Read The Motorman's Son CD/LP/Track Review The Motorman's Son
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 18, 2017
Read "Romance 76" CD/LP/Track Review Romance 76
by Glenn Astarita
Published: October 11, 2016
Read "Live In New York" CD/LP/Track Review Live In New York
by John Sharpe
Published: October 4, 2016
Read "Tipico" CD/LP/Track Review Tipico
by James Nadal
Published: January 12, 2017
Read "And the Rhythm Serenaders" CD/LP/Track Review And the Rhythm Serenaders
by Jack Bowers
Published: August 22, 2016
Read "Celebrating Elvin Jones" CD/LP/Track Review Celebrating Elvin Jones
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: August 11, 2016
Read "Disorder at the Border Plays Ornette" CD/LP/Track Review Disorder at the Border Plays Ornette
by Nicola Negri
Published: December 24, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!