Ranee Lee – Deep Song (A Tribute To Billie Holiday) – Justin Time Records Just 250-2, 60:32 ****:
(Ranee Lee – vocals; Richard Ring – guitar; Oliver Jones – piano; Milt Hinton – bass; Richard Beaudet – saxophone & flute; Archie Alleyne – drums)
Ranee Lee was born in New York City, but came to Canada, specifically Montreal, some forty years ago. Since then she has enhanced the Canadian jazz scene with her talent. In recognition she has received well-deserved accolades such as a Juno Award in 2010 and other honors, namely The Order of Canada in 2006, which is the country’s highest civilian acknowledgment. This digital re-mastered re-release of her 1989 album Deep Song is a splendid sparkler that should receive the attention it deserves.
It is clear from the outset that it is not Lee’s intention to channel or to offer Holidayesque interpretations of these songs associated with Holiday’s career. Firstly, Lee has an entirely different singing tone and timbre. Additionally, she does not have that world- weariness and sadness that seemed to find a home in Holiday’s vocals. The album opens with a lesser-known composition by Buddy Johnson entitled “I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone” done in a downhearted frame supported by some singular flute work by Richard Beaudet. A lovely mid–tempo “When A Woman Loves A Man” follows right along with the band offering some George Shearing Quintet-style unison playing in the background. ”What A Little Moonlight Can Do” is a real swinger, opening with some scatting by Lee, with a stellar solo from pianist Oliver Jones mid-way through the tune, all while the tasty drumming of Archie Alleyne is driving the band forward.
The original concept behind this album stemmed from Lee’s stage interpretation of Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill for which she garnered a Dora Mavor Moore Award. These awards are presented annually for theater, dance, and opera performances and performers in Toronto. So when Ranee launches in to her readings of those better known Holiday tunes such as “God Bless The Child”, “Easy Livin’” and “Strange Fruit”, she is fully aware of the context of the songs and thereby imbues them with the authority and emotion that maintains Holiday’s real meaning.
The direct ties back to Billie Holiday and her music are quite strong with a couple of members of this group. Bassist Milt Hinton played on many of Holiday’s recordings in the 1930s and was also part of her final session in 1959. Drummer Archie Alleyne, who has been an important part of the Toronto jazz establishment since the 1950s and is still actively playing in the city, was in the band along with pianist Mal Waldron and bassist Ernie Cosachuck for the August 10, 1957 Holiday recording done at Ontario’s Stratford Shakespearean Festival. In talking to Archie recently about the Lee album he opined that: ”This CD with Ranee Lee is one of my favorites along with a stellar group of musicians”.
Ranee Lee is an astonishing and charismatic artist, and this re-issue is a more than appropriate recognition of the celebrated singer.
TrackList: I Wonder Where Our Love Has Gone; When A Woman Loves a Man; Crazy He Calls Me; What A Little Moonlight Can Do; God Bless The Child; Somebody’s On My Mind; Easy Livin’; Strange Fruit; Ain’t Nobody’s Business; Them There Eyes; Don’t Explain; Deep Song; Fine And Mellow; Ill Wind
Jazz meets pop in this appealing 1970 Stan Getz vinyl reissue.