A Giving Way is the first release in eleven years and sixth studio album from The Peggy Lee Band, the first group put together by Vancouver’s celebrated cellist and composer. Formed in 1998, its membership remains unchanged since 2007. It was created, Peggy writes, “to explore different strategies for improvisation within composition and to feature the unique and brilliant voices that make up the band. Over the years the individual voices remain vivid and compelling but the overall ensemble sound has also developed into its own rich entity.” Indeed, the ensemble playing is beautifully polished and warm and the members of the band improvise with great creativity, passion and clarity.
Though Peggy cites Carla Bley, Wayne Horvitz, and Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra as related and influential, A Giving Way, like all her music, has its own story to tell in its own way. It is dedicated to her late parents and was mostly composed at the family cottage in Ontario: “These compositions come from a place of gratitude and love for family, place and community as well as a desire to do better collectively towards justice and human dignity. Not all of them were composed at the cabin. ‘Justice / Honour’ came directly in response to George Floyd’s murder, and so I feel that human decency is also a theme of this music and one which I connect to my parents.” As for “Whispering Pines”: “I’ve spent a long time listening to The Band, and that song seemed to fit well within the environment of music written in the woods.”
Cellist Peggy Lee’s 8-piece band shapes musical collages that blend free improvisation with stirring brass chorales and inventive jazz solos.
– Mark Werlin
The Peggy Lee Band
Peggy Lee – cello
Brad Turner – trumpet, flugelhorn, cornet
Jon Bentley – tenor saxophone
Jeremy Berkman – trombone
Ron Samworth – 6 & 12 string electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Tony Wilson – guitar
André Lachance – electric bass
Dylan van der Schyff -drums
TracklistPlease note that the below previews are loaded as 44.1 kHz / 16 bit.
Total time: 00:47:03
|Mixing & Mastering Engineer
Chris Gestrin at Public Alley 421.
|Original Recording Format
Recorded at The Warehouse Studio, Vancouver, July 4-5, 2022.
|February 2, 2024
Cellist Peggy Lee is an important figure in the Vancouver creative music scene and a talent forever deserving wider recognition. Her band has been combining brass, guitar (Tony Wilson — brilliant), and riveting structures for decades. On her latest, she has a classic front line of trumpet (Brad Turner), tenor saxophone (Jon Bentley), and trombone (Jeremy Berkman), but they sound less like the Jazz Messengers than like a chamber wind group that has been guided to warmth and soul by arrangers like Gil Evans or Maria Schneider. “Boat Ride into Go Bay” and “Promise” suggest folk music or Aaron Copland, with wide intervals and clarity that, yes, is ragged out by improvising that is not hemmed in by simplicity. It is not a surprise that the only tune by a composer other than Lee is “Whispering Pines” by Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel of The Band. When Wilson is given some extra leash, he is capable of both lyricism and piquant electric guitar distortion, such as on the lyrical-to-wild “Internal Structures”. Lee’s cello is given several feature moments (the title track, for example), but the star is always the overall sound of this astonishing, fresh band. André Lancaster’s electric bass is an un-busy anchor, and Dylan van der Schyff is melodic and orchestral as the ensemble percussionist. For listeners with affection for Bill Frisell and his collaborations with the late cornet expert Ron Miles, this music will open your ears and delight. Oh, and it’s for everyone else as well.
The Absolute Sound
Lee’s music shimmers and expands through melodies, harmonies and rhythms that are evocative and at times dissonant and angular. With imagination and concentrated listening, we can appreciate the threads connecting composed music and free improvisation…The tenderness of the cello melody over the guitar and bass ostinato on ‘Internal Structures’ patiently give way to a driving rock groove with distorted guitar explorations. The horns enter triumphantly. It’s a party, a crazy, beautiful, and wildly stirring experience reflecting life’s journey. We dance, we celebrate, we mourn, we move forward…The playing of these artful compositions is exceptional.
There’s a hand-in-glove beauty in the way these musicians work together. Trumpeter Brad Turner, tenor saxophonist Jon Bentley and trombonist Jeremy Berkman are a well-matched horn section in every way; bassist André Lachance and guitarists Ron Samworth and Tony Wilson seem to breathe as a single unit; and drummer Dylan van der Schyff is a glue and key presence in more ways than one. But it’s Lee—in sound and leadership—who really ties things together. It’s her giving way—inherited, no doubt, from her parents—that’s responsible for the magic in this music.
The influence of Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra is beautifully apparent in the material, where folk and gospel collide, although the intertwined guitars of Ron Samworth and Tony Wilson can function like a livewire threading the chorale-like glow. There are plenty of solos embedded in these tightly-charted pieces, including totally free interplay. The nine indelible originals are complemented by a lovely take on the Band’s classic “Whispering Pines,” which reflects a kind of formalized Americana (a la Bill Frisell) that pervades much of the album. I mean that as a kind of rough-hewn sonic blueprint that could extend from Stephen Foster to Steve Earle. Either way, it’s a beautiful recording.
While Turner takes a more active role in the first half of the album, Bentley shines in the second. The trumpeter is a standout assets on “Boat Ride Into Go Home Bay”, a rich piece bookended by pensive thoughts, and “Justice/Honour”, a response to George Floyd’s murder where the ensemble conjures something modal and epic, with Eastern spice and raw percussive tract. Among devotional horn expression, there’s classical suggestions and subtle modulation.
Peggy Lee proves to be a generous composer in this transformative sonic journey, seamlessly blending profundity and abandonment.
It is difficult to fathom why Lee is not better known for the eloquence and uniqueness of the music that she creates around the solemn atmosphere of her cello. Perhaps this may have something to do with attempting to define it in terms of this genre or that. However, the uniquely beautiful sonorities of (for instance) Internal Structures, Justice / Honour; even the interpretation of Whispering Pines, and other songs on A Giving Way, show Lee to be an artist with a breathtakingly singular voice.
Bird Is The Worm
For many years, Peggy Lee has been casting her spell of avant-garde, folk, modern jazz, chamber, and ambient musics, and with each successive occurrence, the enchantment gains even greater strength.
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