Tuesday, 6 December 2016
Harold Shenkman Hall, Shenkman Arts Centre
Friday, December 2, 2016 – 8 p.m.
Ranee Lee doesn't just sing: her voice is a flexible instrument that can softly caress a lyric – or jump, growl, and bop the night away..
At 8 p.m. on Friday, she sashayed onto the stage at the Shenkman Arts Centre, and, from then until 10:45 p.m., the energy never flagged. In two sets totaling 2¼ hours, the Montreal jazz vocalist performed jazz standards to pop ballads to lesser-known gems in a show which flowed easily and kept the audience entranced.
Lee's career has lasted more than 50 years – and the experience showed in how she gave each song an arrangement and the attention which allowed it to shine. She could project lyrics with blistering precision and speed, as she did in her opening number, or slowly bring out their beauty in a thoughtful “Lullaby of the Leaves”.
She used her expressive voice and her hands to underline the meaning of the lyrics – but also to incorporate her vocals as part of the overall sound. In that, she was well supported by her band of experienced Montreal jazz musicians: her husband, guitarist Richard Ring, plus drummer Dave Laing, double bassist Dave Watts, and pianist Taurey Butler. There was a comfortable, swinging vibe on stage, and an easy, quick communication among the musicians.
The concert was advertised as showcasing Lee's latest CD, What's Going On . I thought the pieces from that CD were among the highlights of the show, particularly when she was joined by the members of the Birds on a Wire string quartet, who contributed rich and lovely melodies to the mix.
Cellist Jane Chan was featured on “White Gardenia”, a plaintive ballad which Lee's long-time musical associate Roger Peace especially contributed to the album, along with Butler. Chan added full, melancholy cello lines and a solo, which underlined the lyrics' story of lost love, as did Ring's evocative guitar solo. Lee sang the elegy with care and deep emotion, letting her voice ring through the hall.