Deelee Dube: Trying Times

Chris M. Slawecki BY

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Deelee Dube: Trying Times
Five years ago, the annual Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition named Deelee Dube its first British winner and (2016) Sassy Award recipient, landing Dubé a spot at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and recording contract for this Concord Records debut.

Trying Times marks a major label debut, but Deelee Dube is no artistic novice. She started violin lessons when she was four and put together her first band when she was fourteen. Her 2016 release Tenderly was produced and arranged by Italian tenor saxophonist Renato D'Aiello and performed with D'Aiello's quartet. In early 2017, they teamed to present Sarah Vaughan Reimagined: Deelee Dubé Sings Sarah Vaughan with the Renato D'Aiello Quartet at Royal Albert Hall. Dubé is also a published poet and her project artwork has been exhibited at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Trying Times begins with its title track, opened by Dubé's strong and soulful unaccompanied voice, which here lands somewhere between Miss Sarah's sassy swing and Anita Baker's gospel of soul. The instrumental accompaniment builds into a classic, inventive jazz sound, with dissonant horns smudging the lyrics about trouble and pianist (arranger and producer) Benito Gonzalez slipping and sliding into a funky blue haze.

Then Dubé and company thoroughly conquer the series of powerful, challenging tunes that form the backbone of this debut. After romping through a sharp and energetic "On a Clear Day," they downshift into the version of "Ugly Beauty (Still We Dream)" which pairs Carmen McRae's lyrics with the only waltz Thelonious Monk ever wrote. Pianist Gonzalez smudges several "wrong notes" to honor Monk's unique style, just like he mines the sound of Horace Silver from the opening title track, and the singer's hushed final verse dishes a delicious blend of naivete and misterioso.

Next, Dubé's voice detonates "500 Miles High," originally written by Chick Corea to feature vocalist Flora Purim in Return to Forever, into liftoff and orbit. It leaps and bounds like quicksilver its hard-driving and twisting melody, making each note ring and shine. "500 Miles High" divebombs into a full- bore roadrunner's take on "Thou Swell," where pianist Gonzalez, bassist Corcoran Holt and drummer Mark Whitfield Jr. trade flurries of notes and chords like sparring partners, so fast and furious that your ears can barely keep up. "Thou Swell" closes with an explosion of vocalese fireworks, and then downshifts into a tender duet with Russell Malone's guitar on a languid "Lazy Afternoon."

Altogether, Trying Times presents an incredible range of material energetically performed by a singer and band with the chops to back it up. It's a most impressive debut. (Here's hoping that arranger Gonzalez tries to take on a "On a Clear Day You Can See 500 Miles High" medley for Dubé's follow-up.)

Track Listing

1. Tryin' Times (05:15) 2. Still Trying (03:50) 3. On A Clear Day (04:14) 4. Ugly Beauty (Still We Dream) (04:16) 5. 500 Miles High (05:37) 6. Thou Swell (03:44) 7. Lazy Afternoon (03:38) 8. Joy (06:14) 9. Unity (06:38) 10. Still We Try (Spoken Word Tone Poem) (04:13)


Deelee Dube: voice / vocals; Benito Gonzalez: piano; Russell Malone: guitar, electric; Corcoran Holt: bass; Mark Whitfield Jr.: drums; Eric Wyatts: saxophone, tenor; Duane Eubanks: trumpet; Andrae Murchison: trombone.

Album information

Title: Trying Times | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Concord Music Group

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