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JJ 06/80: Ran Blake & Jeanne Lee – The Newest Sound Around

A review by Max Harrison, first published in Jazz Journal June 1980

This appeared on American RCA almost 20 years ago and scarcely anyone except Gunther Schuller and me took any notice. Not that this stopped either artist from being very attractive since, of course, and Blake in particular has made several solo records.

What he and Miss Lee offer here is a series in which they identify with a wide range of material. Miss Lee alters familiar melodies such as Laura to striking effect, sometimes adding passages of wordless vocalise that are most telling in Summertime. Blake uses a far wider diversity of harmonic resource than is usually associated with such music, as his Evil Blues solo will quickly show. And compare the published harmonisation of Loverman with what happens here.

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His accompaniments are full of the unexpected, and Flamingoes Fly achieves a particularly sensitive integration of voice with piano. This, like Summertime and their ethereal account of Loverman, shows that they respond best to a strong melody – one able to carry their elaborations.

This is not to suggest that their work is merely decorative, for most of these themes are significantly recast. Evil Blues, for example, presents a fresh and oblique reading of a very familiar idiom, and is a more successfully extroverted performance than the displeasingly arch Season. Of course, there are echoes of many other musics besides jazz and blues here.
Max Harrison

Discography
Laura; Blue Monk; Church On Wooster Street; Where Flamingoes Fly; Season In The Sun (19.40) – Summertime; Loverman; Evil Blues; Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child; When Sunny Gets Blue; Love Isn’t Everything (20.22)
Jeanne Lee (v); Ran Blake (p). NYC, November/December 1961.
(RCA PL42863)

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