Verena McBee U-Phoria Review
By: Elberton Cisnero
Verena McBee might be the wife of famed bassist Cecil McBee, but the vocalist is burgeoning her own career with an Avant slant. Her second release titled U-Phoria is a collection of tunes penned by her husband McBee. Her ensemble consists of: Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano: violin; Christian Contreras: soprano, tenor saxophone; Billy Test: piano; Zwelakhe-Duma Bell LePere: bass and Jon DiFiore: drums. Husband McBee is in the producer chair. Born and raised in Germany, she was classically trained and had a busy career working as an actress under the name Verena Gemsa. Since moving to New York in 2007, she has developed into a jazz singer that is blazing her own trail in the non-traditional jazz idiom.
“Sweet Things” is the opening track, with an angular melody and interesting lyrics, McBee’s vocal ability is instantly recognizable. The composition is a modern exploration of the jazz vocabulary, with a focus on post-bop sounds, influenced by later John Coltrane and John Gilmore writing styles. The melody is structured in a “horn like” way, with intricate rhythms and challenging intervals, McBee’s performance of the Coltrane-ish melody is impressive. The whole band is impressive, they all share the same musical concept and possess deep powerful ears. Contreras’ solo is a stirring flight of saxophone passion. McBee sings the melody again follow by a bridge with the horns, violin and McBee; all playing both written and improvised parts that create an impressive group sound. This leads to another melody, here. We hear the range and control of McBee’s abilities, with her upper register control and tone translating just like a warm soprano saxophone. The ending is also of note. The ensemble has a hip sound with a woodwind, a violin and McBee’s voice, making a powerful frontline to build Cecil McBee’s melodic visions.
“Ladybugg” is a relaxed medium swing selection that again finds McBee singing a melody that is wide ranging, full of colorful and challenging intervals. The impressive part is, the melody is highly melodic and performed beautifully by McBee and Dowdy-Terracciano. McBee’s range is again on display and the counterpoint between her voice and the horns is very nice. Contreras’ tenor saxophone solo is wonderful, which is followed by a passionate solo from Dowdy-Terracciano. The rhythm section of LePere and DiFiore is always providing both support and commentary during the solos, which builds energy and allows the soloist to explore at will. McBee’s scatting is very ‘horn’ like. The is music is inspiriting, both from a technical standpoint and performance standpoint.
McBee is adventurous and explorative in her approach towards husband McBee’s compositions. Her vocal tone is audacious and bold. She is not afraid to use her voice in the most envelope pushing ways. The modernism in her vocal approach and execution is equally matched by the musicians who comprise her ensemble. Each adds to the depth of the experience and a redolent approach.
- Release Date: November 18, 2018
- Label: Lemac Music, Lady Bee Music