Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

This is the 1st of your 3 free articles

Become a member for unlimited website access and more.

FREE TRIAL Available!

Learn More

Already a member? Sign in to continue reading

Jeanne Lee/Ran Blake: The Newest Sound You Never Heard (A-Side)

A review of the double album of discovered recordings from the vocalist and pianist

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.
The Newest Sound You Never Heard
Cover of The Newest Sound You Never Heard by Jeanne Lee and Ran Blake

In 1961, pianist Ran Blake and vocalist Jeanne Lee, both graduates of Bard University, put out The Newest Sound Around, an unsettlingly intimate compendium of narcotized ballads that now stands as one of the more unusual recordings in jazz, a kind of outré masterpiece. Lee’s subdued, sonorous voice sounded like a ghostly combination of Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln, and Betty Carter, and Blake’s piano—bluesy, atonal, with classical flourishes—was a perfect foil on standards like “Lover Man,” “Laura,” and “When Sunny Gets Blue.”

Until recently, the only other documentation we had of this bizarre duo was from a 1989 album called You Stepped Out of a Cloud. But now a trove of new recordings, discovered in the archive of a Belgian broadcasting studio, has been collected on an excellent double album, The Newest Sound You Never Heard. These 33 songs—some recorded live, some in-studio—were made in Brussels in 1966 and 1967, and they’re a valuable addition to the oeuvre. (Lee died in 2000 and Blake is now 83.) This record has the same feeling and atmosphere as its antecedent, but the song list is more mainstream and therefore a bit wryer. So there are haunting melodies, including “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Lonely Woman,” alongside contemporary hits like “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Mister Tambourine Man.”

Passed through the Blake-Lee prism, each tune is creepy and scarily beautiful. Even the over-covered “Take the ‘A’ Train” is deconstructed in such a way that it sounds unfamiliar, thanks to Blake’s minimalistic piano technique and Lee’s cubist phrasing: “Har-LAM, Har-LAM, Har-LAM!” It isn’t clear how influential Lee and Blake’s music has been. Cécile McLorin Salvant’s mysterious 2018 release, The Window, seems to have borrowed from it. But, on the whole, these recordings exist in their own weird and special world.

Preview or download The Newest Sound You Never Heard on Amazon!

Originally Published