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Three good quality 2014 jazz albums you may have missed.

Music Reviews: Jazz Albums from Ranee Lee, Rodney Whitaker, and Gian-Carla Tisera

Ranee Lee – What’s Going On

What’s Going On, a September release from Montreal-based diva Ranee Lee, is a 10-song collection of classic pieces spiced with a trio of originals. After 13 successful albums for Justin Time Records, Lee knows what to do with a song. This is no novice learning her trade. This is a woman building on a firm foundation. Whether it is a re-imagination of the Marvin Gaye title song or a subtle arrangement of “Lazy Afternoon,” the choice of material gives the song stylist the kind of rich opportunities she needs for creative reinterpretations.Ranee Lee

Lee is backed by a strong ensemble in varying combinations on individual tracks including the Birds On A Wire String Quartet. Her original compositions are the intense “It Will Be What It Will Be,” the dramatic “Silent Tears,” and the swinging “Echoes of the Heart.” This last tune features dynamic solo work from saxophonist Chet Doxas, drummer Dave Laing, and pianist Taurey Butler. Highlights among the covers are her Latin take on the Coleman Hawkins/Thelonious Monk/Jon Hendricks tune, “I Mean You” and a poignant arrangement of “Where Do You Start?” For those who like the familiar transformed and enriched, she saves the best for last, as she closes the album with the Bob Marley classic “One Love” and Leon Russell’s “A Song for You.”

Rodney Whitaker – When We Find Ourselves Alone

Bassist Rodney Whitaker leads a veteran quartet—pianist Bruce Barth, drummer Greg Hutchinson and Antonio Hart on alto and soprano sax—through an 11-tune program of (you guessed it) classics and originals on When We Find Ourselves Alone. For his touch of spice, he has daughter Rockelle Fortin chip in with five vocals. The album is a melodic excursion with an old school sound.Rodney Whitaker

They open with two originals: a lightly swinging “The World Falls Away” and “When You Played with Roy,” a Latin-flavored shout-out to trumpeter Roy Hargrove with whom Whitaker, Hutchinson and Hart had played with for a number of years. Next comes the hoary “Autumn Leaves,” and while it is reasonable to ask why the world needs another “Autumn Leaves” cover, it turns out that with Whitaker’s arrangement and Fortin’s vocal, there’s life in the old girl yet.

Fortin’s other vocals are on “You Go to My Head,” “Freedom Day,” a bluesy “Mr. Magic,” with sax highlights from Hart, and Fred Hammond’s modern gospel piece, “Lost in You Again.” I must admit that on the last one, she seems to get lost behind Hart’s soprano sax most of the time.

According to the liner notes the sweetly lyrical “Jamerson’s Lullaby” and the album’s title song are drawn from Whitaker’s “Jazz Up South,” a work devoted to stories of the Great Migration. Both reflect the musician’s social commitment, an extension of the themes of the better known “Freedom Day.”

Gian-Carla Tisera – Nora La Bella

If you’re up for something different—something where traditional genres are combined and played off against each other in the interest of a new aesthetic vision, take a look at Bolivian soprano Gian-Carla Tisera’s August release Nora La Bella. Not only does the album mix jazz elements with traditional Latin roots music—that is nothing exceptionally new—but given a diva with a gorgeous operatic voice, there is that to add to the mix as well. Indeed, it is the operatic mode that dominates the disc.Gian carla

The set includes original pieces like the title song and original work based on traditional elements like the opening song “Señora Chichera.” It includes original compositions based on classical works. “Luz y Madre” is based on Haydin’s Piano Sonata #7 and “Ernesto in the Tomb” is based on a Verdi aria from Don Carlo. And of course there are the Latin songs culled from Argentina (“Mujer, Niña y Amiga”), Mexico (“La Liorona), and Cuba (“Hasta Siempre”).

Tisera sings in Spanish, Italian and once in a while even in English, but whichever language she sings in, whatever genre she focuses on, when she sings she is a joy to hear.

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