The Peggy Lee Band: Invitation
Confident leadership involves many things, among them being able to marshal one's charges and get the best performances out of them, and being secure enough in one's own abilities to readily share the spotlight with talented colleagues. With that in mind, Peggy Lee shows herself to be the quintessential leader on the Vancouver-based musician's fifth band date Invitation. Her cello playing is very much present but often an element within the larger whole, and throughout the album her outstanding band members are granted ample opportunity to demonstrate their individual prowess. The eleven-track recording impressively showcases The Peggy Lee Band as a polished ensemble deftly capable of bringing Lee's compositions and arrangements to life.
It's telling that she gives the solo spots in the opening numbers to band members before stepping up near the end of the second track on the aptly titled “Your Grace,” which nicely documents the group's legato playing style. A lustrous horns arrangement in “Invitation” opens the album, inviting the listener in as the band, led by Jon Bentley's tenor sax, gives a languorous reading of Lee's tune. “Why Are You Yelling?” segues from out-styled (a dissonant chicken-scratch guitar intro) to comparatively more conventional episodes, with trombonist Jeremy Berkman given an unaccompanied moment in the spotlight. “Chorale” opens in stately ballad mode before recasting itself as a spooky noisefest before leaving the goblins behind and returning to the burnished warmth of the intro. The feathery purr of Bentley's tenor sax at the start of “Little Pieces” recalls Coltrane's Ballads, while the bluesy “Punchy” gives Bentley room to burn off steam.
At times an avant sensibility enters into the playing (such as during the collective textural improvisation with which “Not So Far” begins and when the playing of guitarists Tony Wilson and Ron Samworth moves to the fore), but more often than not the ensemble hews to an accessibly sonorous jazz style. Other highlights include “You Will Be Loved Again,” Lee's affecting rendering of a composition by Canadian songstress Mary Margaret O'Hara (Lee also has a collaborative project underway with vocalist O'Hara called Beautiful Tool), and the soulful closer “Warming,” which serenades with its sultry lilt.Like others before her (Duke Ellington and Carla Bley come immediately to mind), Lee conceives of the pieces as compositions first of all while also tailoring their arrangements to specific voices within her band, a superb gathering of Canadian players who bring to Lee's material the respect and commitment it warrants. Theirs is a warm and rich sound (consider the horns and woodwind playing on “Path of a Smile” as proof), and though the band's an octet, the music never feels overcrowded when Lee takes such care in the fashioning of her arrangements.