I first knew John Lee primarily as a drummer, but even at that point close to a decade ago, he wore plenty of different hats. On The Artist, we hear Lee featuring himself on upright bass. Having not heard the young musician in several years, I first thought this was a strange choice, but hearing the first 20 seconds of music are enough to assure even the most critical listener that Lee is in his element.
This album features an excellent cast of musicians who brilliantly execute its hard-swinging repertoire. As both a bassist and a drummer, it makes sense that Lee is acutely aware of the relationship between these two instruments in a jazz rhythm section. He’s chosen American drum great Carl Allen to join him, and he fits into this Canadian ensemble perfectly.
The music heard on The Artist is unapologetically straight ahead, but the energy Lee’s band brings to it makes it appealing to listen to in 2022 and ensure that it’s by no means just a time capsule harkening back to a bygone era. Tracks like Soul Leo and Carl’s Blues set the mood for the album, and Lee’s two originals, Life is a Beautiful Thing and The Artist, fit this vibe to a tee.
Like so much great jazz, this album can be enjoyed in several different contexts. I initially took diligent notes while listening through high-fidelity headphones, then subjected it to a second listen while chopping carrots and onions in the kitchen. The Artist passed both tests!