Conspirators of Pleasure



Jeanne Lee
Earthforms : 1975

JL, voice; Sam Rivers, soprano and tenor sax; Gunter Hampel, flute, piano; Jack Gregg, bass; Steve McCall, drums.

“People who talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love, and positive about the refusal of constraints, have corpses in their mouths.”
–Jeanne Lee

Drew LeDrew: Is that quote really from Jeanne Lee?

Chilly Jay Chill: It might be one of the Situationist slogans chalked on the walls of Paris during May ’68. But it seems appropriate to this music.

DLD: Yeah?

CJC: Sure. While Jeanne Lee has got some serious Black Nationalist cred, I like that this album refuses to privilege radical rhetoric over pure pleasure. She recorded it in 1974 as the leftist movement in the U.S. was an utter shambles. Many of the Panthers are in jail, exile, or body bags. So she titles her album Conspiracy because there are plenty of conspiracies going round and they’re all too scary and too real. But at the same time, the music here is fearless and unapologetic in its pursuit of beauty.

DLD: I hear that in “Sundance,” the way she stretches out the syllables as she sings. The joy she takes in making all those sounds. You know, I don’t normally like vocalese at all. But Jeanne Lee swings it. She’s so much better at it than, well, basically everyone else.

CJC: I dig the groove, too. And the terrific intertwining of Sam Rivers’ soprano and Gunter Hampel’s flute — it almost sounds like something off Conference of the Birds.

DLD: I first heard Jeanne Lee on one of those duet albums she did with Ran Blake. The one with all the standards…

CJC: The Newest Sound Around?

DLD: Yeah, that one. And while I like the album, it seemed kind of tame. It wasn’t until I heard her singing on Archie Shepp’s Blase that I really understood her greatness. And Conspiracy takes that style and pushes it even further.

CJC: She’s the rare jazz singer who got better the more she experimented. I mean, “Angel Chile” is off the charts in terms of oddity. It’s deep in hardcore avant territory. Basically it’s just a series of laughs, moans, sighs, and coos. It could almost be something by John Cage. But somehow it works as jazz. It’s strung through with a strong internal logic. And there’s a real warmth that grounds the piece as well.

DLD: It seems like a statement of some kind: I am a black woman and I have nothing else but my voice, no agency but my throat, and I will use this voice to express every measure of humanity that I hold within, and see without. An expression of both otherness and unity.

CJC: That’s nicely put, but I’m not sure I agree. I hear celebration in “Angel Chile” more than any lingering victimization. Lee luxuriating in her powers, her voice, her body, her ability to create these amazing sounds that defy language and categorization. There’s real humor and sex here.

DLD: Yeah, though I don’t think our views are mutually exclusive. All these tracks make me think about the “feminine” in music — especially in jazz. How it’s not often evoked. I don’t know what it means, but I know that Jeanne Lee brings it to light.

CJC: That’s a huge topic. Maybe we’ll leave it for the comments.

DLD: Before we wrap up, let’s point out that “Subway Couple” is a breakneck 3:00 minute blast of punk-soul and free jazz.

CJC: Sam Rivers rocks that tune.

DLD: And Lee really belts it out. It reminds me of that quote about her – “A woman who isn’t afraid of the sound of her own voice.”

& & &

It’s not exactly a conspiracy, but you can find a copy of this on CD if you know where to look at DMG.

Category Jeanne Lee Tags , , , , , ,

18 Responses to Conspirators of Pleasure

  1. Another great ablum featuring Jeanne Lee is ‘Afternoon of a Georgia Faun’ by Marion Brown (would make a great post). Intrigiung album w/anthony braxton, bennie maupin, chick corea, andrew cyrille and many others.

  2. The album is on ECM records.

  3. Thanks so much for the Jeanne Lee. I hear what you’re saying about the “feminine” qualities in music (perhaps that’s evident in the warmth of her voice and her sound that just invites you into it and envelopes around you). But, forgetting about all of that, she was just a heavyweight musician, period. I have always felt she took what Abbey Lincoln was doing and went her own direction from there. Check out her record Natural Affinities if you can find it. It really shows her range as a vocalist. Its stylistically all over the place, but everything makes sense together. Thanks again and keep up the good work!

  4. The quote is from Raoul Vaneigem. From “The Revolution of Everyday Life”.

  5. Caught a little bit of “Watermelon Man” in “Angel Chile.”

    As I said, I loved that Shepp track with her that you posted before. These ones are interesting…

    Anybody who knows me knows my favorite singer is Carmen McRae. Never a musical radical, but she did perform for a Panthers benefit around 1970. Lately there are so many wonder videos of her on Youtube (mostly 80s, my favorite period for her, as well as a few from the 60s, also my favorite period for her) that it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite, but I managed it.

  6. I have a record on hat with Lee, Cyrille and Lyons called Nuba. Everyone I play it for completely hates it. I really enjoy her interactions with Lyons. I’m looking forward to these. Danke.

  7. isn’t that Angela Davis in the photo??

  8. The quote actually comes from Raoul Vaneigem, Cab be found his writing on the Situationist International

  9. Sharp eyes, Joel! Yes, that is Angela Davis in the photo. We were trying to link the situationist quote with something more specifically related to the Black Power movement and thought Davis looked enough like Lee that… well, you get the idea. Trying to create a little web of references. Plus, we really dig Angela Davis.

    Thanks for the Natural Affinities shout-out. And to Nick for Nuba recommend. And godoggo, I hadn’t heard “Watermelon Man” in “Angel Chile” previously, but I’m going back for another listen with that in mind. Fascinating connection. And thanks for the McRae link!

  10. i enjoyed these… pretty much! it’s been a while since i willingly sat through anything that sounds like “angel chile”, i don’t mind admitting ;-)

    mmm, i don’t do vocalese either, no sir… in fact i basically don’t do vocals at all if i can help it. of course one has to make exceptions. lee has a really beautiful voice. she uses it beautifully on “sundance”, then strays dangerously close to scat territory on the second number – but it still didn’t set my teeth on edge (i know this is a case of damned with faint praise, but i really don’t do vocals in jazz). and the last piece? well, very interesting and unusual, she must have been a fascinating lady to know.

    {thumbs up} cheers

  11. is it my fault that i’m not on your site everyday? oh dear, where did the music go…

  12. More server woes. Thanks for letting us know. We’re reinstalling the tracks right now. Check back in a little while and they’ll be there.

  13. hey, thanks- your website is extremely educational, and with a quote like that as the lead-in to the post… well, i had to hear it! i’ve listened and i’m once again inspired! thanks for doing such great work!

  14. The Newest Sound Around, “tame”? Sure, there’s no screaming, but everything you say about her voice is present in the a capella “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” The super-subtle am-I-leading-or-following? interaction she and Blake sometimes get into is amazing – and risky.

  15. Thanks for the wonderful comments here, and thanks for coming back, tripmastermonkey.

    mwanji, point taken. Sometimes our shorthand interactions oversimplify things, I suppose (see also Compulsion).

  16. another thing about Nuba, Jim Jarmusch used it in the film “Ghost Dog”
    to nice effect.

  17. another thing about jeanne lee, her ‘political’ work is of a piece with the music, nothing forced about it. i love her treatment of witter bynner’s translation of lao tzu on natural affinities. and her later work with mal waldron -a song about hiroshima from the point of view of an infant witness?- is bold, visionary, humane.

  18. Nicely said, wheesht.