Sunday, May 28, 2017

Jeanne Lee With Ran Blake - 1962 - The Newest Sound Around

Jeanne Lee With Ran Blake
The Newest Sound Around

01. Laura 5:06
02. Blue Monk 4:40
03. Church On Russell Street 3:12
04. Where Flamingos Fly 4:17
05. Season In The Sun 2:25
06. Summertime 3:30
07. Lover Man 5:00
08. Evil Blues 3:04
09. Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child 2:37
10. When Sunny Gets Blue 4:51
11. Love Isn't Everything 1:20

Piano – Ran Blake
Vocals – Jeanne Lee

Jeanne Lee combines acrobatic vocal maneuvers with a deeply moving sound and quality that allows her to alternate between soaring, upper register flights and piercing, emotive interpretations. She's extremely precise and flexible, and moves from a song or solo's top end to its middle and bottom accompanying an instrument with a stunning ease. Though many critics have cited Lee as creating free jazz's most innovative vocal approach, she's done very little recording, almost none of it as a leader, and even less on American labels. She's best-known for her many sessions with Gunther Hampel. Lee studied dance rather than music at Bard College, but while a student there, she met Ran Blake. They formed a duo, and she did her first recordings with him, which excited many critics. They toured Europe in 1963. Lee moved to California in 1964 and worked with Ian Underwood and sound poet David Hazelton, whom she later married. She and Hampel established their musical relationship while Lee was in Europe in 1967, going on to record over 20 albums together. Lee also recorded with Archie Shepp, Sunny Murray, and Hampel in the late '60s, and with Marion Brown, Anthony Braxton, Enrico Rava, and Andrew Cyrille in the '70s, while also working with Cecil Taylor. She began composing extensively in the '80s and began concentrating on performing her original material, which frequently included poetic and dance components. Most of her recordings have either been done for European labels or small independents. After living in New York in the mid-'90s, Lee taught at two music conservatories in Europe for several years. In 2000, Lee faced colon cancer without medical insurance. Some months after surgery, creative music lost a great voice. Benefit concerts (to help the family with expenses) were held by a number of jazz musicians, including Joseph Jarman, Gunter Hampel, Rashied Ali, Hamiet Bluiett, Abbey Lincoln, and many more.

Third stream pianist and music educator Ran Blake has recorded a number of unique, often solo, jazz albums since the early '60s that showcase his dramatic contrasts of silence and "outbursts" and fresh reinventions of older standards. He has also made his mark on music by influencing music students for many decades at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music.
He was born in Springfield, MA, on April 20, 1935, and eventually got his degree from Bard College, in addition to studying at Columbia University and at the School of Jazz in his home state. In 1957, Blake began collaborating with vocalist Jeanne Lee, and the duo went on a European tour in 1963. His debut album, The Newest Sound Around, was awarded the RCA Album First Prize in Germany in 1963. The follow-up to his debut, Ran Blake Plays Solo Piano, was released on ESP in 1965. Two years later, Blake began teaching jazz at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. Thirty years later, Blake was still educating students at N.E.C., and also served as chairman of the school's contemporary improvisation department.
Blake is the recipient of fellowships from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, and the NEA. His recording has been sporadic and, most often, solo. His discography includes Blue Potato (Milestone, 1969); Third Stream Today (Golden Crest, 1977); Film Noir (Novus, 1980); Duke Dreams (Soul Note, 1981); a double-disc journey through jazz standards and international folk music alike called Painted Rhythms: The Complete Ran Blake (GMRecordings, 1985); one of his duos with Anthony Braxton, A Memory of Vienna (Hatology, 1988); and his duo with Clifford Jordan, Masters From Different Worlds
He recorded even less during the 1990s, but did create, among others: a tribute to Sarah Vaughan, Unmarked Van (Soul Note, 1995), and a revisiting of film noir material and other tunes in a duo with flügelhorn player and trumpeter Enrico Rava, entitled Duo en Noir (2000), recorded for composer Franz Koglmann's new label, Between the Lines. Other labels that have released Blake albums over the decades include the Owl, Horo, Crest, RCA, and Arista labels. In addition to his previously mentioned collaborators, Blake has also worked with Oscar Peterson, Jaki Byard, Mary Lou Williams, Mal Waldron, Houston Person, William Russo, Gunther Schuller, Kate Wolf, and Ricky Ford.

"Third stream" may have been the bandied term, but this unjustly ignored 1962 duet set, the debut for pianist Blake and singer Lee, who worked up their act while studying at Bard College, plays blissfully free of the lumbering lugubriousness and Big Mac-thick philosophizing that mar so much of that music. The eeriness, the mystery, and the sweetness lie always in the deceptive simplicity, never more so than on the opener, "Laura," sketched by Johnny Mercer as a hazy image of loveliness, always out of reach and perhaps not even real, and she flickers in and out of existence with the strike and fade of Blake's figures, the attack and decay of Lee's intonation, now husky, now fruity, but as exacting as Miles Davis' muted trumpet. "Church on Russell Street" is Blake's alone, a gospel show for solo piano late at night, or early in the morning, when everyone but the pianist and maybe the Lord has gone home. "Where Flamingos Fly," from which Van Morrison peeled a few leaves years later, finds Lee a mournful anti-siren, losing her lover and a few members of the animal kingdom to an island that may be Aruba, Iceland, or even Alcatraz; Blake tests single notes like water drops, rumbles chords for incoming tide, stabs boldly at the not quite in tune top octave on his keyboard. "Season in the Sun" (nowhere near Terry Jacks) injects levity with bassist George Duvivier sitting in (as he does on "Evil Blues," the second dash of comic relief) and Lee dryly, slyly insinuating the brevity of her bikini. "If there's going to be an enduring 'new wave' in jazz styling...this voice, this piano may well be the beginning," reads an uncredited blurb on the cover. The record started no revolution, probably because no other two performers had such chemistry or such a distinctive reaction. As jazz styling, though, it endures unsurprisingly. You hear the set in less than one hour
You spend decades wandering inside the sound, as you might inside a sonic Stonehenge, savoring each new vantage point discovered, and the impossibility of discovering them all.

Recorded in 1961, "The Newest Sound Around" still is. One thing you can say for sure about singer Jeanne Lee's and pianist Ran Blake's mutual debut album is that it didn't trigger an avalanche of imitators. In his book, "Jazz: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings," Ben Ratliff describes "The Newest Sound Around" as an "outsider-art work." He certainly got that right. Today, Patricia Barber is the only "main stream" artist I can think of who sometimes sounds even a little like what Ms Lee and Mr Blake were doing almost 50 years ago.

To my ears, Ms Lee has an extremely pleasing, smokey, flexible voice. There's no place in a song that she can't navigate with ease - and when she improvises, you're left thinking, "Why didn't the composer think of that?" Mr Blake can just flat play. He never shows off, but if you are one of the handful of people who have listened to his piano playing over the years, you know he's got "chops" and then some.

"The Newest Sound Around" is a mix of standards, film music, a Monk tune and some originals by Mr Blake. If you're into "avant garde," "third stream," or just plain "lovely and mysterious" jazz, this album is for you. Half a century after it was recorded, it still sounds like tomorrow's music.

Out of print for many years, "Newest Sound Around" is a unique interpretation of piano and vocal jazz duets. I first heard one of the best tracks on the album, "Laura," on a Smithsonian-sponsored collection of third-stream jazz, circa 1976, and it stayed with me. "Laura" was the only vocal performance in the avant-garde/third stream compilation. Fortunately, I managed to get a copy of the Smithsonian record (also long out of print) and have listened periodically to "Laura" over the years, but always wondered about the rest of "Newest Sound Around." I never did locate a copy of the LP. Now the whole CD is available!

Why is this record so memorable, and why do I like it so much? 3 reasons: 1) Jeanne Lee's vocal stylings - warm and traditional while avant-garde at the same time - a rare combination of strengths; 2) Ran Blake's piano - like ice tinkling in a glass, discordant yet perfectly complimentary to the vocals. As an example, the chords of the familiar "Blue Monk" are transformed into something so different that the listener can hardly believe it's the same blues song performed so often by Monk himself; 3) The choice of repertoire - an interesting mix of styles, each of which is turned inside out and performed in a new way.

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