Even though she was born in Brooklyn, New York, Renee Lee has found artistic fulfillment and prosperity and community in her adopted country of Canada, where she acts in theatrical productions, teaches, hosts a television show and records for the Montreal-based jazz label, Justin Time. Having sung standards from the American songbook on previous CD’s, like Dark Divas: Highlights,
Lee thought it was time for her to record a selection of tunes written by Canadian composers and lyricists from the Canadian songbook, so to speak. Including songs from pop, Broadway and jazz, Lee’s CD, Maple Groove,
is inclusive, allowing for Canadian talent from various genres like Gene Lees, Gordon Lightfoot, Oscar Peterson, David Clayton-Thomas and Joni Mitchell. And she sings their music with equal amounts of enthusiasm, insight into the meaning of their lyrics and originality.
Compare Lee’s sensitivity and ease accomplishing the intervallic leaps of Toronto-born Percy Faith’s "Maybe September" with the jaunty swing of likewise Toronto-born Moe Koffman’s "Swinging Shepherd Blues," at first sung wordlessly in unison with guitarist Richard Ring’s melodic lines. And then Lee breaks into the seldom-heard lyrics, particularly those sung during the improvised section. Lee concludes the album with the "Spinning Wheel" of Thomas (who started his career in Toronto), not with the horn-accented version made famous by Blood Sweat and Tears, but with a speeded-up reharmonized 6/8 bridge and with her grandson’s, Darrell Henegan’s, rap conclusion. Oscar Peterson, originally from Montreal and often overlooked as a composer, receives his due with a lush vocal accompaniment by the McGill Students Vocal Ensemble, reminiscent of the work of Take 6. Randy Bachman’s (Winnipeg, Manitoba) "Undun" receives a samba treatment as Lee converts the lyrics themselves into half sung/half spoken words that bring across their meaning more effectively than if they had followed traditional approaches. "Waltz For Debby" whose lyrics were written by friend of Bill Evans and Hamilton, Ontario native Frederick Eugene John (Gene) Lees flows with more sway and more attention to the words before the pianist switches the tempo into a 4/4 swing.
Obviously proud of her chosen country’s contributions to music, Lee has recorded her own tribute to the music written by Canadians which has become a part of the world’s culture.