Ranee Lee and Oliver Jones: Just You, Just Me

They’ve been close friends for a quarter-century, have ranked equally long as two of the brightest stars on the Canadian jazz scene (though she was born in Brooklyn) and individually headlined the first two albums for Montreal’s Justin Time label. In all that time, vocalist Ranee Lee and pianist Oliver Jones have only once joined forces for a full-length recording session, with Jones accompanying Lee on her 1989 release Deep Song. Now, Lee having coaxed Jones out of retirement, they’ve united for a second time for this stunning mixed bag of ballads, upbeat numbers, standards and originals.

The richly imaginative Lee has settled into a rarified groove that places her just a little north of Nina Simone and a bit south of Sarah Vaughan. And her phenomenal scatting, as demonstrated on the title track and a nearly wordless “Autumn Leaves,” elevates her to the league of Mel Torme, Ella Fitzgerald and Mark Murphy. With Jones matching her stride for masterful stride, Lee serves up a perfectly shaded “Stardust” as easily as a scintillating “Sister Sadie.” But it is two of the original tracks that impress most. To luxuriate in the soul-deep contentment of Lee’s ebullient “Until I Was Loved” is to know that she has matured into as accomplished a songwriter as she is a singer. Even better is “This Is It,” with Lee’s lyric fitted to Jones’ music to paint a vibrant portrait of one woman’s self-possessed voyage to splitsville.