The supremely talented and criminally underrated, Jeanne Lee was a master of both song and sound. OK, so there are singers who inhabit a standard more completely and those whose repertoire of extended sound-making techniques are more extensive. But for me, no other singer quite so clearly demonstrates the importance of song and speech to free jazz while exploring texture and subtlety of timbre in the singing of standards. She’s great. Here she is doing her thing…
I Thought About You (with Mal Waldron) – This is gorgeous. Lee was just an amazing improviser so when she chose to scat it was not only about hitting the ‘correct’ notes but about feeling, the blues and colour. After Hours is a album of standards she recorded with Mal Waldron probably around the time of this performance. Worth getting hold of if you don’t have.
Blase (with Archie Shepp) – ‘This ain’t a hate thing, it’s a love thing!’ ‘Blase’ is epic. It’s so much more than a tune. It’s a spiritual trance that takes in centuries and continents. But it’s also achingly sensual. Flesh and earth-bound. Human. At the centre is Lee’s incantation but all the musicians have very personal, distinct offerings. I love the discordance of Chicago Beau and Julio Finn’s harmonicas, that not only clash with each other but, in their slightly fanfare lines, provide a little relief from the others’ overbearing heaviness.
Angel Chile – This is a solo improvisation. Lee’s technique never upstages the story she is telling us. There’s an extensive range of notes, sounds, textures and rhythm but in all this she keeps hold of the non-nonchalance and intimacy that characterises most of my favourite vocal jazz. Lovely.