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Recorded just before and during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Lauren Lee’s newest offering, “The Queen of Cups,” reimagines the solo album as an opportunity to welcome the listener into the emotional affect of the artist. Lee’s approach expands beyond the setting of artist and instrument, employing a wide variety of textures from swift keyboard improvisations to layered vocal harmonies to syllabic vocal improvisations over a single ostinato bass note.

 

In a time marked by quarantine and social distancing, Lee creates an intimate setting where feelings of sadness, inadequacy, mania, gratitude, disassociation, ambivalence, hope, and strength bubble up through her approach to harmony and timbre. Additionally, her work as a lyricist builds upon the musical setting that is simultaneously declarative and welcoming.

 

Lee’s approach to timbre is purposeful and effective: on “Mad House” and “Unity Village” you’ll hear voice and piano dancing with and against one another - in harmony, in unison, and with each taking turns as the lead sound. This continues in her approach to the Wayne Shorter composition “Footprints”: her vocal melody floats above piano voices that switch from open spacey voicings to dissonant clusters.

 

“Another Reality” and “Up In The Air” employ a different but equally effective approach, making use of reverb, double tracked vocals, layered vocal harmonies, Rhodes,  piano and a synthesizer bass.

 

         The album is bookended by the compositions “Cogitation” and “Cocoon,” both of which highlight the clarity and nimbleness of Lee’s voice over solemn and reflective piano performances.

           

         While the material on “The Queen of Cups” has a through line of emotional vulnerability, there is room for the listener to ride along in an introspective journey – Lee states, “I want the listener to have space to think when they're hearing this music. I want to encourage their minds to wander.” As the COVID pandemic ebbs and flows, having the space to think, and to feel, is a welcome opportunity.

-Thomas LaRocca