Kellylee Evans Fight or Flight
Fight or Flight
(ENLIVEN! Media – 2006)
by Eugene Holley, Jr.
When one thinks of Black artists from North America, the United States immediately comes to mind. But that leaves out the superb Black, brown and beige artists from Canada. For decades, the brothers and sisters from the Great White North have made strong contributions to African-American music — from the jazz piano virtuoso Oscar Peterson, to the dark and lovely divas Tamia, and Deborah Cox. Other artists like Kardinal Offishal and Denzal Sinclaire have not made the artistic jump to the States, but are well known in their country.
That American invisibility will soon end for the Toronto-born, Ottawa-based singer/songwriter Kellylee Evans. This talented daughter of Jamaican immigrants burst on the scene when she took second place at the 2004 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Jazz Competition, and recently opened for Tony Bennett, and performed at the Terrace Gallery in Washington, DC’s Kennedy Center. In an era where Black singers are manufactured to be American Idol clones, Evans is an independent breath of fresh air, as evidenced by her stunning debut CD, Fight or Flight? (Enliven Media, www.kellyleeevans.com).
Co-produced by Evans and bassists Carlos Henderson and Lonnie Plaxico, who both worked with Common, Art Blakey, and Wynton Marsalis, Evans is supported by an excellent cast of jazz-based musicians, including keyboardists Jon Cowerd and George Colligan, guitarist Marvin Sewell, and percussionist Kahil Kwame Bell. Though she’s often described as “Sade meets Erykah Badu meets Norah Jones,” Evans exhibits a brilliant blend of Joni Mitchell’s lyrical imagery, Nancy Wilson’s peerless phrasing, and Dianne Reeves’s powerful presence. The twelve Evans-penned tracks are well-constructed, radio-friendly compositions about love, loss, and identity delivered in rich, sepia-syncopated West Indian, Latin, ballad and straight-ahead arrangements. The most powerful track is “Rapunzel,” which evokes the ancient fairy tale of the long-haired girl, and delivers a devastating critique on race and female body issues that Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone would approve of.
Evans’s artistry is a phoenix raised from the ashes of her near-death experience from an allergic reaction to medication, and the recent death of her mother. Those traumatic events inspired her to drop her pursuit of a masters degree in Legal Studies at Carleton University, and concentrate on her music. Growing up, she was a member of the Toronto Mendelssohn Youth Choir, and sang in a jazz combo in college. She met Lonnie Plaxico in 2001 at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, and jammed with him. After her second place finish at the Monk Competition, she appeared on a number of media outlets including CBC Radio, Rogers TV, Toronto’s City TV, the sitcom, Whose Line Is It Anyway, and the Wayne Brady Show. She’s also performed with saxophonist/flutist Jane Bunnett at the 4th Annual Global Divas concert in Toronto, and was awarded a scholarship to study with bassist Christian McBride at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Academy in Colorado.
Kellylee Evans’s arrival is only bounded by her limitless potential.