Verena McBee / 'U-PHORIA': Review in: "CHALKED UP REVIEWS"

by Amity Hereweard - July 19th 2019

Jazz vocalist Verena McBee was born and raised in Northern Germany.  She has a learnid  background in the arts.  Her journey began at age 7 with piano lessons at the Conservatory of Osnabrueck, adding flute to her arsenal at the age of 14.  Her interest in theater was a foot, so she joined a local theater group.  McBee’s pursuit of formal music studies continued in 1993 to 1997 at the University Osnabrueck, where she studied classical music for teaching (piano & flute) and the German language.  In 2004, the then Verena Gemsa met her husband Cecil McBee and moved to NYC in 2007. Her formal training has included  studying with premier jazz vocalists Brianna Thomas and Roberta Gambarini.

U-PHORIA is McBee’s second album and the follow up to her first album, Can’t help it! released in 2013. McBee accomplishes the monumental taskEdit Text of putting brilliant lyrics to Cecil McBee’s (her husband) original compositions.  U-PHORIA is filled with complex melodies and modern harmonies, but McBee’s vocal style allows the music to shine and she conveys the melodic core of each track. The ensemble is Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano on violin, Christian Contreras on soprano and tenor saxophone, Billy Test on piano, Zwelkahe-Duma Bell LePere on bass and Jon DiFiore on drums. The sonic qualities and agility of Dowdy-Terracciano’s violin pairs beautifully with McBee vocal color and range. This is a magical date of music that might be a little challenging melodically to some, but well worth the listen.

Our Favorite Track Our favorite track is “U-Phoria.” McBee effortlessly sings the wide spanning range and intervals of the melody with ease and vocal power. McBee’s understanding of the jazz heritage is obvious in the phrasing and rhythmic delivery. Also, McBee’s lyrics are deep and fit the modern colorful style of the music. Most vocalists would struggle to give this melody justice with just singing syllables, as in a vocalese, but McBee delivers the words and conjures a hornlike line with passion and clarity.  Dowdy-Terracciano’s violin is lively and matches McBee’s melody presentation. It also nice to hear the violin in a jazz setting. LePere’s bass solo is melodic and full of rich tones, as is DiFiore’s answering statement. McBee scatting solo shows her authority in improvising. The sonic blend between McBee and the saxophone and violin are of note. The three voices blend with each other in a joyous musical celebration. The soprano and violin writing are excellent. This is very creative music performed by a cast of outstanding musicians.

In Conclusion

McBee is not an a-typical vocalist, her sense of phrasing, timing and ability to navigate her husband McBee’s melodies is a task most vocalists would struggle to endure.  Her modern to avant-garde leanings are in line with her husband’s melodies.  Her ability to tackle and ever moving harmonic landscape further exemplifies her command vocally.  U-PHORIA is an album that is about depth of listening, each time through the storyline of each tune is uncoiled and the respect of what both McBees’s have created is unified into and aural journey of modern creativity.




Verena McBee




Lemac Music, Lady Bee Music

Release Date

November 18, 2018





Sound Quality




Ensemble Sound


Vocal Quality


Unusual Instrumentation


Art Work



Verena McBee: U-PHORIA Review: "Sound In Review" - (S.I.R.)

March 11th 2019 by Shannon Smith

Verena McBee was born and raised in Germany, her birthname was Verena Gemsa. Her journey in music began at age 7 with piano.  Her studies included the addition of flute at age 14.  In 1993, she studied classical music for teaching (piano & flute) and German language and literature at the University Osnabrueck and graduated in 1997.  From 2000-2006 Verena appeared as actress and vocalist in Hamburg, Munich, Vienna, Cologne, Brussels, Prisdina and NYC under her maiden name. In 2004, she met her now husband Cecil McBee and moved to NYC in 2007. Verena continued her tutelage in the states  with Brianna Thomas and Roberta Gambarini. Verena McBee’s first album Can’t help it! released in 2013, with her sophomore release in 2018 titled U-PHORIA, McBee steps forward with an album of her husband’s compositions set to lyrics she handcrafted to complex melodies with harmonic richness.

“Sweet Things” is set to a medium paced swing feel. The band has a modern jazz vocabulary that stems from the great jazz quartets from the sixties. That sense of rhythm and phrasing can also apply to McBee’s singing. Though she is singing the melody written by Cecil, her delivery is colored by and transmits the energy of that era of jazz. The melodies unfold like horn lines and McBee’s technical prowess delivers them will style and clarity. The lyrics are positive and flowing. Christian Contreras’ soprano saxophone is given plenty of solos space. The inclusion of Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano on violin adds a sonic color that is unusual and blends beautifully with McBee’s vocal color and Conteras’ saxophone.

The title track explores the sonority of the three front instruments; voice, saxophone and violin. Playing the melody together, the three create a sound that is full and unique in the jazz genre. The waltz feel has energy and fluidity. McBee’s ability to phrase like an instrumentalist is very impressive and it further solidifies her technical and musical abilities. Dowdy-Terracciano’s violin solo is impressive, as is the band ability to build a strong support and building background. Bassit Zwelkahe-Duma Bell LePere turns in a beautiful bass solo as does Verena McBee. Her scatting is just as ‘horn’ like as her melody singing. The result, a powerful track that makes for a stylish jazz original.

With the release of U-PHORIA, featuring a sextet with Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano on violin, Christian Contreras on soprano and tenor saxophone, Billy Test on piano, Zwelkahe-Duma Bell LePere on bass and Jon DiFiore on drums.  The album is a testament to the creativity of Verena, her ability to navigate the distinctly avant-garde melodies originally created by husband Cecil, which highlight her interpretative abilities is enlightened.  Her lyrics are equally of a creative ilk, and the pairing of both McBee’s results in a richly auditory experience.



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Verena McBee, U-PHORIA - Review: "Staccatofy"

February 7th 2019 - by Steph Cosme

Born and raised in Northern Germany Verena McBee has been always connected to the arts. She began piano lessons at the age of seven and took lessons for over ten years in her hometown at the Conservatory of Osnabrueck, the addition of flute at age fourteen taking her into the real of multi-instrumentalist.  In 1993 she studied classical music and the German language and literature at the University Osnabrueck, graduating in 1997. In the years of 2000-2006 Verena appeared as actress and vocalist under her maiden name Verena Gemsa in Hamburg, Munich, Vienna, Cologne, Brussels, Prisdina and NYC.  In 2004 she met her now husband Cecil McBee and moved to NYC in 2007. Inspired by the music of Sarah Vaughan Verena started studying Jazz Vocals with several different instructors, among them Brianna Thomas and Roberta Gambarini. Her debut album Can’t Help It was released in January of 2013. 

U-PHORIA her 2nd album features all compositions by her husband jazz bassist Cecil McBee with all original lyrics by Verena.

U-PHORIA is an avant-garde exploration of complex harmony and melodies filled with tension of exploration of notes. McBee’s band expanded to a Sextet with this production and features Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano on Violin, Christian Contreras on Soprano and Tenor Saxophone, Billy Test on Piano, Zwelkahe-Duma F. Bell LePere on Bass and Jon DiFiore on Drums. Together they set out on an explorative reding of husband McBees’s complex writing skills. Angular and muscular this is not a vocalist singing standards album, this is a lyricist deeply committed to the lyrics and melodies she is singing joined by an equally committed ensemble. Together they bring to light the McBee songbook with a sense of euphoria. That's the short of it!



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Verena McBee U-Phoria Review: "5-Finger-Review"

December 23rd 2018 by Elberton Cisnero

Verena McBee might be the wife of famed bassist Cecil McBee, but the vocalist is burgeoning her own career with an Avant slant.  Her second release titled U-Phoria is a collection of tunes penned by her husband McBee.  Her ensemble consists of: Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano: violin; Christian Contreras: soprano, tenor saxophone; Billy Test: piano; Zwelakhe-Duma Bell LePere: bass and Jon DiFiore: drums. Husband McBee is in the producer chair.   Born and raised in Germany, she was classically trained and had a busy career working as an actress under the name Verena Gemsa.  Since moving to New York in 2007, she has developed into a jazz singer that is blazing her own trail in the non-traditional jazz idiom.

“Sweet Things” is the opening track, with an angular melody and interesting lyrics, McBee’s vocal ability is instantly recognizable. The composition is a modern exploration of the jazz vocabulary, with a focus on post-bop sounds, influenced by later John Coltrane and John Gilmore writing styles. The melody is structured in a “horn like” way, with intricate rhythms and challenging intervals, McBee’s performance of the Coltrane-ish melody is impressive. The whole band is impressive, they all sha-re the same musical concept and possess deep powerful ears. Contreras’ solo is a stirring flight of saxophone passion. McBee sings the melody again follow by a bridge with the horns, violin and McBee; all playing both written and improvised parts that create an impressive group sound. This leads to another melody, here.  We hear the range and control of McBee’s abilities, with her upper register control and tone translating just like a warm soprano saxophone. The ending is also of note. The ensemble has a hip sound with a woodwind, a violin and McBee’s voice, making a powerful frontline to build Cecil McBee’s melodic visions.

“Ladybugg” is a relaxed medium swing selection that again finds McBee singing a melody that is wide ranging, full of colorful and challenging intervals. The impressive part is, the melody is highly melodic and performed beautifully by McBee and Dowdy-Terracciano. McBee’s range is again on display and the counterpoint between her voice and the horns is very nice. Contreras’ tenor saxophone solo is wonderful, which is followed by a passionate solo from Dowdy-Terracciano. The rhythm section of LePere and DiFiore is always providing both support and commentary during the solos, which builds energy and allows the soloist to explore at will. McBee’s scatting is very ‘horn’ like. The is music is inspiriting, both from a technical standpoint and performance standpoint.

McBee is adventurous and explorative in her approach towards husband McBee’s compositions.  Her vocal tone is audacious and bold.  She is not afraid to use her voice in the most envelope pushing ways.  The modernism in her vocal approach and execution is equally matched by the musicians who comprise her ensemble. Each adds to the depth of the experience and a redolent approach.


Verena McBee on Amazon

  • Release Date: November 18, 2018
  • Label: Lemac Music, Lady Bee Music

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Verena McBee, U-Phoria: "All About Vocals"

Dec 7th 2018 by Robert S. Harmon

Born and raised in Northern Germany, Verena McBee embarked on the beginnings of her studies.  At age seven she began piano lessons for ten years in her hometown at the Conservatory of Osnabrueck, later adding flute at the age of fourteen.  She also explored theater starting at the age of fourteen, joining a local theater group.

In 1993 she studied classical music (piano and flute).  She additionally studied the German language and literature at the University Osnabrueck, graduating in 1997.  During her last year of studies, McBee auditioned for acting schools and was accepted in Hamburg at Schule fuer Schauspiel in 1997.  From 2000-2006 Verena appeared as an actress and vocalist under her maiden name Verena Gemsa in Hamburg, Munich, Vienna, Cologne, Brussels, Prisdina and NYC.

In 2004, she met her now husband Cecil McBee and moved to NYC in 2007. Inspired by the music of Sarah Vaughan, Verena McBee started studying jazz vocals with several different instructors, among them Brianna Thomas and Roberta Gambarini.

In January of 2013, McBee produced her debut jazz album Can’t Help It! with her trio: Billy Test on piano, Zwelakhe Duma F. Bell du Pere on double bass and Brian Woodruff on drums.  Now in 2018, her latest offering U-PHORIA, features all compositions by her husband jazz bassist Cecil McBee with Verena McBee’s original lyrics.

An explorative tune “Sweet Things,” is filled with tension notes and high-flying sweeps of the melody.  Pianist Billy Test locks tightly with bassist Zwelakhe Duma Bell LePere, while drummer Jon DiFiore colorizes with multi-layers of textualization.  An interesting production approach during the solo section is implemented by vocalist McBee.  Her voice is panned right with a more ethereal colorization, while the pan left has a more avant vocalization approach. All the while soprano saxophonist Christian Contreras weaves an adventurous soloing approach around vocalist McBee’s improvisations.

“LadyBuGG,” is a seductively imbued tune that is embellished with violinist Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano who doubles the melody on many occasions with vocalist McBee.  The written counterpoint is especially challenging and vocalist McBee uses her voice in an upper register horn approach.  Cecil McBee has long had a reputation of writing in a creatively complex manner.  “LadyBuGG,” utilizes elongated lines, and vocalist McBee quenches emotion into each line.  Of special note, Contreras’ solo – this time on tenor, it is filled with passion and fire.

U-Phoria is a melodically complex album, not for the casual listener.  Verena McBee has taken to task writing lyrics to melodically complex melodies by husband Cecil.  Her approach is adventurous and improvisational based. The sound is progressive and explorative and firmly in the avant or unorthodox realm, making for a wondrous listen.  Each player equally contributes to the overall sound as a collaborative effort that rises to its potential.  Firmly rooted in the creative improvisational dimension.

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March 3rd 2018 by Scott Yanow.                                                                                                                                                            
Singer Verena McBee made a strong impression a couple of years ago with her debut recording, Can’t Help It. It featured her coming up with fresh ideas on standards, and contributing all of the arrangements, two originals, and the lyrics to her husband Cecil McBee’s “Agua Dulce.” As worthy as her debut was, U-PHORIA is an important step forward.
Classically trained on piano and flute, and an in-demand actress in her native Germany, Verena met the legendary bassist Cecil McBee in 2004. Since moving to New York City in 2007, she has blossomed into a talented jazz singer, appearing in many of the major clubs.
Cecil McBee has been an innovative bassist since at least the 1960s, working with the who’s who of jazz including Charles Lloyd, Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers, Jackie McLean, Yusef Lateef and Freddie Hubbard among many others. Although he has been renowned for his bass playing during the past 50 years, his composing talents have often been overlooked. Verena McBee on U-PHORIA aims to change all of that.
Joined by her regular trio (pianist Billy Test, bassist Zwelakhe-Duma Bell LePere and drummer Jon DiFiore) plus violinist Gabriel Dowdy-Terracciano and Christian Contreras on soprano and tenor, Verena McBee performs her lyrics to nine of her husband’s originals. The pieces were not originally designed for a vocalist (as can be heard in some of the wide interval jumps) but Ms. McBee has the range, the feeling for the music, and the determination to make it sound effortless. Throughout the set, the singer constantly interacts with the other musicians, particularly violinist Dowdy and saxophonist Contreras. She is fearless in her improvising and holds her own with the fast company.
Her lyrics mostly deal with various aspects of love and relationships including the joyful “Sweet Things,” “Close To You Alone” (about being temporarily alone but happy due to the closeness with one’s partner), “Song Of Her,” and the saucy “Slippin’ & Slidin’.” Most unusual is “U-Phoria” which is about the joy one finds when they end a bad relationship.
The opener, “Sweet Thing,” may be a very difficult song to sing due to its complex melody but Ms. McBee makes it sound natural. To name a few other highlights, her vocalizing is strong and expressive on “Close To You Alone” which has a particularly memorable melody. “Lady Bugg” sounds like it could be have been written by Charles Mingus and it inspires passionate tenor, violin and vocal solos. “Song Of Her” is a brooding ballad that is slightly reminiscent of “Naima” while “All About You” is given a soulful rendition with prominent violin. On the relatively straight-ahead “U-Phoria,” the singer displays her strong scatting ability. And as for “Slippin’ & Slidin’,” suffice it to say that the sensuous interpretation is happily over-the-top.
The release of U-Phoria, which should result in Cecil McBee getting more recognition for his composing, is a superior showcase for Verena McBee’s musical talents. It is recommended to listeners who enjoy hearing adventurous jazz singers.
Scott Yanow, jazz journalist/historian and author of 11 books including The Jazz Singers, The Great Jazz Guitarists, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76
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Verena McBee -"Can’t Help It" -
December  20st 2013 Review by Scott Yanow                                                                                                                       
For her recording debut as a leader, Verena McBee is joined by pianist Billy Test, bassist Zwelakhe Duma-Bell LePere and drummer Brian Woodruff, mostly performing fresh and inventive versions of standards. She also introduces two of her originals (“Princess Lioness” and “Don’t Ask Me”), wrote the lyrics to her husband bassist Cecil McBee’s “Agua Dulce” and contributed all of the inventive arrangements.

Can’t Help It begins with her driving piece, “Princess Lioness,” that serves as a fine introduction to the singer. On “Taking A Chance On Love,” she takes the first chorus quite slow, putting plenty of feeling into the words before it becomes a medium-tempo swinger. “The Man I Love” is interpreted with a great deal of drama with its verse and chorus being taken out-of-tempo. This unusual version has the singer filling the words with longing and hopelessness. In contrast, “Love Me Or Leave Me,” which begins as a duet with drummer Woodruff, has some exciting scat-singing and concludes with Verena reinventing the melody. “Take The ‘A’ Train, which has a bit of solo space for each of her sidemen, also features some expressive scatting.
Verena McBee has always been inspired by Marlene Dietrich. Her rendition of Ms. Dietrich’s first hit, “Falling In Love Again,” is quite personal and finds her singing in both German and English. “Agua Dulce” is quite a tour-de-force with Verna showing off her very wide range and her background in classical music. Her wordless singing during the performance’s second half is quite memorable. She is also passionate on a medium-slow version of “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.” While the latter is a duet with pianist Test, she shares a happy “Ain’t Misbehavin’’ with bassist LePere. Concluding this memorable effort is a medley of the timeless “Nature Boy” with her topical and thoughtful “Don’t Ask Me (Immigration Song).”

Can’t Help It is quite a debut for Verena McBee, making one look forward to what is coming next.
 Scott Yanow, Jazz Journalist / Historian / Author
( The Jazz Singers, The Great Jazz Guitarists, Jazz On Film and Jazz On Record 1917-76 )




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