Jennifer Lee and the Ever-Expanding Universe Capture Many Musial Idioms

After a decade on the professional down-low, Lee has made a triumphant return with ‘My Shining Hour,’ an album that reintroduced her as an artist transformed.


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Oakland’s Jennifer Lee is making a triumphant return to the stage.

Photo courtesy Terri Hinte Public Relations

Jennifer Lee is interested in astronomy, but her Ever-Expanding Universe project is more about her creative journey than the fate of the cosmos. The slow-blooming Oakland singer, songwriter, guitarist, and pianist first made an impression on the 2001 CD Quintessential, an album featuring three tracks each by five rising Bay Area singers, including Jenna Mammina and Sharman Duran. She emerged as a fully formed artist with 2003’s J-Walkin’ and 2008’s Quiet Joy (both on her SBE label), albums informed by her love of bossa nova.

Throughout the aughts she was a regular presence on Bay Area stages, earning a devoted following with her sparkling performances. But for much of the past decade, Lee was on the professional down-low, contending with a series of personal challenges. Last August, she made a triumphant return with My Shining Hour, an album that reintroduced Lee as an artist transformed. With 11 of the 13 tracks featuring her original songs, the project captures her command of numerous musical idioms, with straight-ahead swingers and ballads, bossa nova, samba, tango, and rock-tinged fusion. The album continues her long-running creative partnership with San Diego guitarist Peter Sprague, a Chick Corea confidant with whom she co-arranged every song.

For her performance Sat., Jan. 26, performance at the California Jazz Conservatory’s Rendon Hall, Lee will be joined by the special guest Carey Williams on vocals and the superlative Bay Area rhythm section tandem of bassist John Wiitala and pianist/keyboardist Adam Shulman, who’s become the accompanist of choice for Bay Area vocal stars such as Paula West, Ed Reed, and Tiffany Austin. Supporting herself on guitar and piano, Lee explores an enthralling constellation of emotional states, largely eschewing songs about romance in favor of other aspects of the human condition.

Jennifer Lee and the Ever-Expanding Universe, 8 p.m. Sat., Jan. 26, Rendon Hall, 2040 Addison St., Berkeley, $22, 510-845-5373, www.cjc.edu/concerts.

This report was originally published in our sister publication, the East Bay Monthly.

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