Verena McBee: U-PHORIA Review
Verena McBee was born and raised in Germany, her birthname was Verena Gemsa. Her journey in music began at age 7 with piano. Her studies included the addition of flute at age 14. In 1993, she studied classical music for teaching (piano & flute) and German language and literature at the University Osnabrueck and graduated in 1997. From 2000-2006 Verena appeared as actress and vocalist in Hamburg, Munich, Vienna, Cologne, Brussels, Prisdina and NYC under her maiden name. In 2004, she met her now husband Cecil McBee and moved to NYC in 2007. Verena continued her tutelage in the states with Brianna Thomas and Roberta Gambarini. Verena McBee’s first album Can’t help it! released in 2013, with her sophomore release in 2018 titled U-PHORIA, McBee steps forward with an album of her husband’s compositions set to lyrics she handcrafted to complex melodies with harmonic richness.
“Sweet Things” is set to a medium paced swing feel. The band has a modern jazz vocabulary that stems from the great jazz quartets from the sixties. That sense of rhythm and phrasing can also apply to McBee’s singing. Though she is singing the melody written by Cecil, her delivery is colored by and transmits the energy of that era of jazz. The melodies unfold like horn lines and McBee’s technical prowess delivers them will style and clarity. The lyrics are positive and flowing. Christian Contreras’ soprano saxophone is given plenty of solos space. The inclusion of Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano on violin adds a sonic color that is unusual and blends beautifully with McBee’s vocal color and Conteras’ saxophone.
The title track explores the sonority of the three front instruments; voice, saxophone and violin. Playing the melody together, the three create a sound that is full and unique in the jazz genre. The waltz feel has energy and fluidity. McBee’s ability to phrase like an instrumentalist is very impressive and it further solidifies her technical and musical abilities. Dowdy-Terracciano’s violin solo is impressive, as is the band ability to build a strong support and building background. Bassit Zwelkahe-Duma Bell LePere turns in a beautiful bass solo as does Verena McBee. Her scatting is just as ‘horn’ like as her melody singing. The result, a powerful track that makes for a stylish jazz original.
With the release of U-PHORIA, featuring a sextet with Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano on violin, Christian Contreras on soprano and tenor saxophone, Billy Test on piano, Zwelkahe-Duma Bell LePere on bass and Jon DiFiore on drums. The album is a testament to the creativity of Verena, her ability to navigate the distinctly avant-garde melodies originally created by husband Cecil, which highlight her interpretative abilities is enlightened. Her lyrics are equally of a creative ilk, and the pairing of both McBee’s results in a richly auditory experience.
November 18, 2018
Lemac Music, Lady Bee Music