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Ranee Lee: Dark Divas: Highlights

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Brooklyn-born, Montreal-based Ranee Lee retains traditional virtues that most contemporary, jazz-oriented singers have abandoned: professionalism, humor, discipline, unpretentiousness. No doubt these old-school qualities serve her well in her one-woman stage production, Dark Divas, in which she pays homage to Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Pearl Bailey, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. On the Dark Divas CD, she performs songs associated with these legendary ladies, incorporating elements of their styles (vocal colors and timbres, lyric interpretations) without succumbing to mimicry.

The album’s jazz content varies according to the diva feted-little for the Baker and Bailey selections, considerable confident improvisation and scat singing on the tunes associated with Fitzgerald and Vaughan. Although the critically acclaimed stage presentation of Dark Divas includes anecdotes, characterizations and commentary-a two-CD set containing dialogue and additional songs has been released in Canada-in some ways this studio highlights version does Lee something of a disservice.

For over a decade, she’s made a string of fine recordings in which she’s evolved her own vocal style and expressive projection of lyrics. On this project, her individuality is largely overshadowed by the strong personalities of the women she’s celebrating. Lee would be wiser to continue developing her own talent. If she does, someone will mount a tribute to her someday.