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Ranee Lee: What’s Going On

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Though born in New York, vocalist Ranee Lee has lived more than half her 72 years in Quebec, spent her entire recording career with the Montreal-based Justin Time label and ranks among the artistic elite inducted into the Order of Canada. So to recognize Lee as her adopted homeland’s finest living jazz singer is entirely just.

Lee’s magic is on full display throughout What’s Going On, her most ambitious and variegated release to date. Her backing comprises just piano, bass, drums and sax, augmented on three tracks by the lush Birds on a Wire string quartet. Yet thanks to the ingenuity of alternating arrangers Taurey Butler and Andy Ballantyne, the sound is eminently fuller and more atmospheric.

Still, Lee’s voice-espresso dark and cocoa rich-remains the centerpiece as she progresses from the soul-deep adoration of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” and tranquil satisfaction of “Lazy Afternoon” to the heartbreak of Marilyn and Alan Bergman’s “Where Do You Start?” and social despair of the Marvin Gaye title track. Lee honors her Jamaican-born mother with a hallelujah reading of Bob Marley’s “One Love” and contributes four impressive originals, including the moving “Silent Tears,” a profound portrait of clinical depression, and the slinky “It Will Be What It Will Be!” Most dazzlingly, though, is her kaleidoscopic rendering of Monk’s “I Mean You.”

Originally Published