Vancouver composer Peggy Lee's attention to detail tips the scales perfectly in Echo Painting

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      Echo Painting (Songlines)

      It’s always a treat to hear local cellist Peggy Lee play music for dancers—but her latest CD, Echo Painting, suggests that she’s an accomplished choreographer in her own right.

      It’s not that the new disc is dance music. The only hint of a metronomic pulse here comes on the supple, snaky “Out on a Limb”, and that seems to have more to do with new-music minimalism than EDM floor-filling. But Echo Painting is all about balance, about finding the right blend between tight ensemble work and expansive soloing, between unpitched textural improvisation and powerful melodies. Between freedom and structure, in short, and in that regard Lee’s latest is an unqualified success.

      The composer’s attention to detail extends to the makeup of her 10-piece band, which plays born melodists (Brad Turner on trumpet and flügelhorn, and Jon Bentley on soprano and tenor sax chief among them) off against edgy, even abrasive abstract work, mostly from guitarist Cole Schmidt, saxophonist John Paton, and Lee herself. Pieces like the album opener, “Incantation”, and the slow-burning “Painting Echoes” can be read as dreamy soundscapes, but they’re not without undercurrents of tension; “Weather Building”, on the other hand, is based on ominous ascending chords, but Bentley’s saxophone introduction is as sweet and fluid as spring birdsong. And Lee makes good use of her secret weapon: Bradshaw Pack’s pedal-steel guitar, which adds mysterious orchestral depth to her eloquent horn arrangements.

      Echo Painting isn’t without precedent, as Lee­ has cited her admiration for Carla Bley’s compositional voice, and she also seems to draw from the late Kenny Wheeler’s approach to the larger band. All three share an ability to make music that is simultaneously adventurous and warm—something that’s both delightful and rare.

      Peggy Lee will host a CD-release party for Echo Painting at the WISE Hall (1882 Adanac Street) next Friday (April 20).

      Out on a Limb | Echo Painting