Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Smart, Provocative, Funny, Swinging Album From Singer Lauren Lee

Lauren Lee distinguishes herself with a clear uncluttered soprano as well as her cynical, spot-on sense of humor, unusually strong lyrical sensibility and acerbic chops at the piano. Among pianists who also can handle the mic, only Champian Fulton is in her league. Lee’s songs are sharp, relevant and tackle both the philosophical and political, far beyond the standard jazz singer terrain of affairs of the heart and their aftermath. Her album The Consciousness Test with her Space Jazz Trio featuring bassist Charley Sabatino and drummer Andy O’Neil is streaming at Bandcamp. It’s as provocative as it is entertaining.

The album’s first track is Power Lines, Lee’s catchy, terse vocalese solos over a tumbling backdrop as the song coalesces:

Coming down
The leaves are falling to the ground below…
Mass devastation in the distance
How can we take shelter when so much must be done…
Enjoy the stillness while it lasts.

She takes it out over catchy, circling syncopation. Hurricane Sandy reflection or premonition?

The title track starts out as a briskly swinging number in 12/4: “Nightmares don’t just happen while you’re sleeping,” Lee warns. Everything goes quiet, then her piano slowly brings it back:

Feeling discomfort is part of the norm,
Insanity scenes take over your dreams…
You don’t own me you cowardly fearmongering bully

Although it could be a lockdown-era parable, this anti-narcissist broadside actually dates back to 2018 or maybe even before. Some insights are timeless.

Lee and trio follow with Demons, a fast, pulsing, catchy jazz waltz: “It’s all in your head,” is the gist. Voyager begins as an broodingly enigmatic piano-and-vocal number: a bass pulse comes in with scrapes and shimmers from the cymbals, lots of rhythmic shifts, and a long, bitingly gorgeous, glimmering piano solo over searching bass at the center.

The rhythms get much more playful in Oh No Oh No Oh No, from leaping quasi-rubato to steady swing. “Could this be the thing that I fear the most…calm me down, hey let’s build a blanket fort from the world,” Lee cajoles. She sticks with straight-up swing for The Life Cycle, contemplating both the biological and metaphorical need to “disturb the parasitic order of the undead but barely living.”

The Procrastination Song is about unraveling, Lee’s piano leading the disintegration to an unexpected calm. She closes the album with Moral, shifting from a moodily unsettled intro to a precise clave groove. Here the humor is very subtle, a tongue-in-cheek look at the certainty that fuels various kinds of human behavior.

August 22, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Intimate, Pensive, Guardedly Hopeful Solo Album From Singer and Pianist Lauren Lee

The lockdown derailed Lauren Lee‘s plan to put out a full-band album. So she made a great solo record, The Queen of Cups, streaming at Bandcamp. This intimate, thoughtful album is no less colorful than her work with other musicians. Among jazz pianists who also sing (or jazz singers who also play), she’s at the top of the list, underscored by the fact that she writes her own material. She’s a strong lyricist and has an irrepressible, literary sense of humor. As far as the title is concerned, in the tarot deck the Queen of Cups symbolizes a mother archetype, associated with compassion but also clairvoyance, and the ability to mirror others or oneself.

Lee plays steady, stern, resonant piano chords behind her contrastingly more lively vocalese in the opening number, Cogitation, subtly shifting the ambience toward optimism. She builds a soaring kaleidoscope of vocal harmonies over a minimalist electronic bassline in the anthemic second track, Up in the Air. “Keeping good thoughts and good intentions won’t stop the existential dread,” she demurs, but refuses to cave in to despair.

Lee goes back to piano, flitting and scatting in tandem with the leaping, hypnotically insistent riffs in Mad House. She switches back to electric piano for If I Should Lose You, a lingering, pensively spare tableau which she turns almost imperceptibly into more tropical territory. Lee assesses the process of stepping into a braver alter ego in Another Reality, via a playfully illustrative, decisively successful level of meta.

She goes back to piano for the steady but animated rhythms of Unity Village, descending into lowlit, considerably darker ambience and then a triumphant return. Her take of I Should Care has a low-key bounce and a subtle, souful bittersweetness over tersely bubbling electric piano, with a tinge of distortion on the amp.

Set to surrealistically textured electric piano, Boxes is an imagistic carpe-diem cautionary tale for anyone who might stash a good idea away, only to unpack it later, “coffee-stained and torn into pieces.” After that, Lee builds cautiously and spaciously to the moodily energetic vocalese and piano of Footprints. She winds up the record with Cocoon, artfully constructing an echoey, anthemic web of refracted vocals and keyboard multitracks.

May 9, 2021 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Velocity Duo Entertain With Just Bass and Wordless Vocals

On one level, the Velocity Duo‘s new album Dichotomies – streaming online at singer Lauren Lee’s site – is avant garde to the extreme. On the other, it’s very accessible and irresistibly fun. You’d hardly guess that just vocals and bass (that’s Charley Sabatino on the four-string) could be this entertaining. The duo are playing the album release show tomorrow night, May 6 at 6 PM at the Whynot Jazz Room on Christopher St.; cover is $10, and there’s probably a drink minimum, the venue site isn’t clear on that.

Rare as bass-and-vocal albums are, the obvious recent point of comparison is singer Jen Shyu‘s 2011 masterpiece, Synastry with bassist Mark Dresser. Both that album and this new one have a dramatic flair, but where Shyu goes for pointed sociopolitical commentary and knifes-edge theatrics, Lee goes for mood and ambience with frequent bursts of humor. And where Shyu writes lyrics, Lee sings vocalese, which raises the conversational factor with Sabatino (who is an equal even if he’s not centerstage in this collaboration).

The album title says it all: the three first tracks are Apathy/Desire, Awe/Melancholy, and Disappointment and Joy. Again, as these titles indicate, Lee and Sabatino are working contrasts rather than opposite extremes. Sometimes the two take separate roles, other times working in tandem to bring each emotion or mix of emotions to life. The first track seems to be the former, Lee’s carefree, soul-infused flights and occcasional detours into jazz scatting contrast with Sabatino’s close-to-the-vest, almost claustrophobic minimalism. The second is airy and spacious: Sabatino’s punchy, percussive, incisive lines give these tunes a much-needed drive. The third sets a bittersweet, jazz-tinged Lee against Sabatino’s steady, dancing low-register lines.

Likewise, Elation/Woe pits Lee’s blithe scattting – the album’s most straight-ahead jazz passages – against Sabatino’s somber, rustically bluesy lines…until he goes up the scale and joins the fun. Holiday/Death – what a contrast, huh? – pairs Sabatino’s furtiveness with Lee’s operatically-tinged leaps and bounds. Hunger/Satiety is both the album’s most outside moment and also one of its funnier ones, while on Insecurity and Substance Sabatino once again anchors Lee’s LMAO attention-deficit attack with his gravitas until he too can’t resist getting in on the joke.

Lee’s sarcastic noodling on Narcisissm/Selfless is even funnier – it’s hard to see where if at all a contrast comes in. Skeptical/Naive also goes for laughs, but far more subtly, at least til midway through. Likewise, the bass/vocal tradeoffs in Tranquility/Cacaphony are more low-key. The album winds up with a strange and thought-provoking dichotomy, Uncomfortable/Placid. These short, most likely at least half-improvised vignettes transcend the question of whether or not this is jazz or indie classical or whatever mix of genres it might be: it’s just good, fun music.

May 5, 2015 Posted by | avant garde music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment