The Peggy Lee Band

(Drip Audio)

I have to admit that I'm a fan of Peggy Lee, for obvious reasons: the way she plays the cello, her composing style(s), her arranging skills are all qualities that I find impossible to ignore. Unfortunately, being a fan often entails being quite demanding when it comes to those whose work we hold in high esteem, this being the reason why in my review of the most recent album by The Peggy Lee Band, New Code (2009), I wrote that "New Code is not (yet) the album that I firmly believe Peggy Lee has inside herself".

The big problem is that in order to grow a medium-sized line-up has to play a lot of (paid) gigs, something which in the current climate is just an illusion. So it was with a mixture of hope and fear that I waited for the release of a new album by this octet (meanwhile, I happened to see Peggy Lee's cello appearing here and there, the most recent example I know of being the fine album of songs by Alicia Hansen titled Fractography). So I can say that I'm very pleased that Invitation is such a superior work: much better than New Code, it's an unqualified success - with just two minor reservations. The reasons for the new album being so good are very clear, as I'll state in a minute.

Let's have a look at the line-up, which is the same as it was on the previous album: Brad Turner on trumpet and flugelhorn, Jon Bentley on tenor sax, Jeremy Berkman on trombone, Peggy Lee on cello, Ron Samworth and Tony Wilson on guitars, Andre Lachance on electric bass, Dylan van der Schyff on drums and percussion. Produced by Peggy Lee e Dylan van der Schyff, the album was recorded by Eric Mosher at the Warehouse, a Vancouver, B.C., and mixed, edited and mastered by Dylan van der Schyff in a place which goes under the quite bizarre name of Zio Uovo.

The recorded sound of Invitation is a lot better than the sound of New Code - which wasn't bad at all. The obvious consequence being that the work of the ensemble - besides sounding richer and more beautiful - is now easier to appreciate, the rich instrumental palette of Peggy Lee's arrangements being in full sight. Also, it appears to me that here Peggy Lee has successfully managed to better integrate the compositional and the improvised dimensions - while on the previous album three improvised episodes sat side-by-side with nine compositions. The players just played better here - listen to van der Schyff's work on cymbals, which has never been so clear and versatile. Though quite diverse, the compositional range never lacks coherence, with more than a few themes reminding me of (for lack of better word) "chamber music". Also lotsa jazz is to be found, especially in the fine solos by the winds.

The only minuses here (but I had to look long and hard) being a playing time that goes a bit too long (this, to me, often dilutes an album's impact, though I'm aware of the fact that some people regard a CD whose playing time is that of an LP as a sign of one being stingy), and a couple of solos I'd have a hard time defining as "indispensable" (but here I think the leader's intention being to give each player his moment under the spotlight).

Let's have a look at the pieces.

A warm opening as per its title, Invitation sounds a bit like "chamber music", a mid-tempo episode featuring a brief, and inviting, trumpet solo, and a solo on tenor sax. Fine colours on cymbals, and a "flowering" ensemble.

Why Are You Yelling? is a long piece with many episodes. There's a "noisy" opening section for electric guitar on the left channel (Tony Wilson?), then we jump to a "swinging theme" that reminded me of The ICP Orchestra - the drumming here is not too far from Han Bennink's, with percussive timbres and splashing cymbals - with a "noisy" guitar backing. A "fanfare" with agitated cymbals takes us to a long part for solo trombone, quite thematic, which is joined by the leader's cello. The tenor takes us back to the "swinging" theme, then there's a melody with a guitar arpeggio, cello, cymbals, stop.

Your Grace has an opening for cello playing "rubato". There's a lyrical entrance for tenor, trumpet, bass, and cymbals. Theme, and a very fine cello solo backed by guitar arpeggios. (This track reminded a bit of Kenny Wheeler.)

The long track titled Chorale opens with a long percussive episode, with a cymbal played arco, wood objects with echo, a cymbal with brushes. There's a slow opening from the ensemble. An arpeggio that sounds a bit "Fripp-like" on the left channel acts as a backdrop for a (scored?) improvisation of many colours. Then it's back to the theme for the ensemble.

Path Of A Smile is maybe the most "jazzy" number on the album, a mid-tempo with a trumpet solo that reminded me of Miles Davis. There's a "generic" bass solo, theme.

Not So Far opens with what to me sounds like a collective improvisation, then a guitar arpeggio and a fine cello take us to a lyrical-sounding melody for trumpet, sax, and trombone.

The long track Little Pieces starts with tenor, then cello, an acoustic guitar arpeggio, a rhythm for cymbal, theme for tenor, then trumpet. This piece features a theme that to me sounds as mixing folk e il c&w (!) motives, and which to me doesn't sound too distant from first-period Nucleus - the line-up featuring Chris Spedding on guitar - also Jukka Tolonen's "folk-fusion". There's a nice 12-string solo by Ron Samworth: first a bass riff that's doubled by guitar, then the 12-string solo. The ensemble envelopes the music, then it's back to the theme.

You Will Be Loved Again is a cover of a song by Mary Margaret O'Hara which I've never heard. There's a fine guitar through a volume pedal, played bottleneck, then cello, theme. Ensemble, fine cymbals, trumpet, cello. There's a guitar solo - a bit Frisell-like - on the left channel, then it's back to the ensemble. Fine cymbals!

Punchy starts with an ostinato, then we can hear a theme that to me is quite a bit Mingus-like, the tenor up front, clearly backed by a ride cymbal, then it's time for a tenor solo with a "noisy" guitar in the background (a bit la Arto Lindsay?). Then we are back to the "Mingus" theme, followed by a "fusion" solo on guitar which to me is far from being memorable. Theme

End Waltz has a fine melodic opening for guitar, another guitar toying with echo. Waltz time, the tenor, winds and cello. Fine trumpet solo. Theme. In closing, it's back to the echo guitar.

Last piece on the album, Warming has a contagious theme for winds, with a fine backing by electric bass, that reminded me a lot of the late, great Chris McGregor, with a guitar solo (by Tony Wilson?) taking the place of Mongezi Feza's trumpet or Dudu Pukwana's alto.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2012 | Nov. 5, 2012