Ranee Lee

Dark Divas: Hightlights

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Lee pays tribute to the pivotal figures of jazz and blues singing who have influenced her. This recording comprises not only a triptych through those dark divas' repertoires but represents some of the music from a stage show she has written about Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald. Perhaps not as familiar worldwide as she is in her Canadian homeland, Lee continues to mature and grow. Her strong, rich, soulful, individualistic voice is well represented, with no excesses, gimmicks, or overt anything. Arranger Rick Wilkins is a big plus on the date with many cuts that feature the "Bad Brass" little big band of Muhammad Abdul Al-Khabyyr on trombone and Ron DiLaurBeaudet on woodwinds. There's a certain chronology to these 15 selections, starting with the real slow bluesy take with trombonist Al-Khabyyr of "Honeysuckle Rose," the easy swing in the French lyric and la la's of "J'ai' Deux Amours," and the old-timey, upbeat "Riffin' the Scotch." There's a low-down blues take of "Fine & Mellow," the hot samba to swing version of "It Was Just One of Those Things" with the Brass, and the piano trio-based ballad "One For My Baby." Lee talks trash during the easy blues novelty swinger "What Happened to the Hair on the Head of the Man I Love?" and goes doting on the Ray Charles/Betty Carter classic "Two to Tango." A ticktock blues springs the door of Pandora's "two-timin' man's" Box wide open during the role reversed "Surprise Party," while an easier "Makin' Whoopee" and good swinger "Perdido" all feature the horns, the latter with Lee scatting. The next three numbers are in Vaughan-Fitzgerald territory as "If You Could See Me Now" is operatic à la Vaughan, while "A Tisket/Tasket" and "Lady Be Good" perfectly reflect Fitzgerald's witty scat trails, the former with the band shouting back, the latter sporting a wordless boppish bridge. The finale is a curious Charles Aznavour pop-R&B-paced "Yesterday When I Was Young" that seems out of place and an unsettling finale. For fans of Lee, this will be a must-have item, while others are encouraged to discover this modern-day dark diva on this very fine recording of other female folk's music. Recommended.

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