Bassist Robert Lee refines musical identity on sophomore album Cha-Ran

Continuing his momentum as a rising talent in Toronto’s jazz scene, bassist and composer Robert Lee has announced the upcoming release of Cha-Ran, his second album as a bandleader.

“I spent a lot of time writing and researching into different musical styles, improving my own musicality, and refining my artistic identity,” Lee tells JAZZ.FM91 about the new recording.

The album features a diverse lineup of personnel including Lee’s core ensemble of drummer Tetyana Haraschuk, pianist Marc-Olivier Poingt, guitarist Marco Pisani and vocalist Carolina Alabau, alongside guest performances from guitarist Kris Ramakrishna, Brandon Atwell on vibraphone and marimba, pianists SongAh Chae and Adem Mehmedovic, violinist Mai Choma, and vocalists Mateo Falgás and Nina Nicolaiewsky.

Watch a live-in-studio performance of the upcoming single Peaks and Spires of the Summer Clouds below.

Cha-Ran is the next step in Lee’s pursuit to refine his musical identity, bridging his core jazz sensibilities with exploration and implementation of other musical genres. Lee has written seven new original compositions based on Korean folktales spanning fantasy and romance narratives, placing his focus on crafting emotionally impactful experiences.

“I became really drawn to their romantic and fantasy narratives and I decided that this would be an incredible opportunity to incorporate these stories in some way into my next musical project,” Lee says.

“I really tried to formulate specific ideas and soundscapes that reflected as closely as possible how I felt when reading these stories but that also incorporated essences of Korean traditional music. This included researching traditional Korean operatic singing (called pansori), finding videos and articles about Korean instruments (such as the gayageum), and listening to traditional Korean drumming music.”

On Cha-Ran, Lee looks to create an immersive storytelling experience reminiscent of the internationally acclaimed animated films of Studio Ghibli, such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro, led by renowned Japanese animator and filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki.

“Studio Ghibli has always been a huge inspiration for me,” Lee explains. “I found that they are masters in telling these beautiful stories in their films through their use of animation, music and dialogue. So in my very humble attempt at emulating the artistry of these films, I tried to convey as much emotion and intent as possible with every story I used in this project.”

Guided by this approach, Lee intends for his upcoming album to have a transcendental effect, believing strongly in music’s ability to evoke visual imagery.

“I hope that when they listen to this album, they can, for maybe a moment, be transported away from whatever they may be going through and discover something hopefully new but also somewhat familiar,” Lee says. “These stories all borrow from familiar themes of love, beauty, and magic. I hope that my music can convey these to the listener and show that, even though there is a lot of negativity and hardship in the world, there are moments of beauty and love and positivity that remain defiant in the face of these adversaries. And that is the goal of what I want my music to be; a positive force in the world.”

In 2020, Lee released his debut album, Ascension.

Lee has distinguished himself as a formidable musician in Toronto’s music scene, performing at venues and festivals all over Ontario. Recognized for his compositional work, Lee received Humber College’s Duke Ellington Society Scholarship in both 2017 and 2018 as well as the James Appel School Creative and Performing Arts Scholarship in 2018.

Lee participated in JAZZ.FM91’s Jazzology program with Heather Bambrick in 2018.

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Here’s the track listing for Cha-Ran:

  1. Cha-Ran
  2. The King and the Mountain
  3. Peaks and Spires of the Summer Clouds
  4. Jade
  5. Seun-Sul
  6. Sun Petals
  7. Kaelo

Robert Lee’s Cha-Ran will be released Aug. 26, 2022, via Three Pines Records.