Sunday, October 6, 2019

Vivian Lee Finds the Expressive Sweet Spot

from the Web page for this recording

Recently my attention was drawn to the album Let’s Talk About Love by the jazz vocalist Vivian Lee. This recording seems to have been out for more than a year. However, I happen to be very picky about vocalists, particularly where jazz takes on popular songs are concerned. Current trends seem to favor attention-grabbing style over substance that shows respect for both composers and lyricists, and Lee seems to be one of those performers that comes down in favor of substance.

Working with a microphone, she keeps her dynamics at an intimate level. When a phrase matters, it matters through just the right level of embellishment rather than by competing with the amplification equipment. With that kind of intimacy, every word registers with the utmost clarity. Consequently, Lee sings not only so that the words matter to her but also so they matter to the listeners.

There is a fair amount of breadth across the eleven tracks of love songs presented on this album. It should be no surprise that not all of them appeal to me. However, there are songs that are special to me for a variety of reasons; and, for the most part, I had no problems buying into Lee’s stylistic approaches.

Thus, while, in general, I am not the greatest fan of Leonard Bernstein, I have always had a soft spot for the musical On the Town. I suspect much of that appeal comes from that uncanny sense of wordsmith-technique found in the partnership of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Lee knows how to deliver those words; and I found myself less interested in Bernstein’s tune than I was in how pianist Joe Gilman wove his own improvisations around that tune in a way that complemented the rhetoric of Lee’s delivery. Similarly, I have always had a fondness for how Gene Lees was able to set just the right words to Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debby.” Finally, if my reception of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” was not quite as enthusiastic, I was still willing to accept Lee’s take on her own terms.

If there were more albums like this one, I would probably be less skeptical of current jazz vocalists.

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