Bay Area jazz singer Jennifer Lee recently came down to Los Angeles to give a performance celebrating the release of her debut CD J-Walkin'
at Catalina's Bar & Grill. Leading a drummer-less trio, Ms. Lee's nearly two-hour set naturally highlighted numbers from that collection and was most interestingly included several bossa novas and folk songs sung convincingly in the original Portuguese. Rounding out the group quite capably were saxophonist Tripp Sprague, guitarist Steve Cotter and bassist John Leftwich.
Singing lyrics by Hoagy Carmichael, Frank Loesser and other great songwriters, Jennifer Lee proved an able interpreter. Ms. Lee has drawn comparisons to singers like Jo Stafford and Julie Christy who sing in a 'cool' style. While she does render her vocals somewhat conversationally, Lee lets you know she's singing. She demonstrated her control of vibrato and pitch early on with a fresh sounding version of "Blue Skies." Another highlight was Carmichael's "Baltimore Oriole," her wintry vocal matched by Sprague's frosty sax and chilly guitar from Cotter.
Lee is not just a good singer, but an engaging performer as well. Between songs, she projected a humorous, self-effacing and pleasantly neurotic persona that amused the intimate crowd. Her version of Loesser's "Inchworm" illustrated both facets of her musical personality nicely. Prefacing the tune with a long and funny anecdote about encountering a sect of hashish smoking Hindus on a trip to India, Lee proceeded to deliver the tune in an appropriately slinky manner, punctuating the number mid-song with an existential spoken-word aside that I would've thought was a stream of consciousness ad-lib if I wasn't already familiar with the version on the CD.
Jennifer Lee's performance at Catalina's was warm and musically rewarding, and her backing band meshed well with her. On stage, Lee delivered on the promise shown on J-Walkin'
, her new CD on SBE Records. Ms. Lee explained that SBE stands for "Striving to Break Even"--she and her album deserve to reach that goal and then some.