Four-part harmonies may not be something new. There a few groups including the Swingle Singers, Hi-Lo’s, The Singers Unlimited, and Manhattan Transfer may have sung it before. But here is a timely reminder that even the best four-part vocal harmonies can also be made new. And that reminder is Vocal Madness by the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet. There is no mistaking the “Madness” in the album’s title. The music is just that roistering. It recalls the days and nights of revelry that took place in the dancehalls when Jazz was young and enjoyed like forbidden fruit. Happily today this joyful music need not be enjoyed surreptitiously today and happily we have the UVJQ to bring us that joy. The UVJQ are remarkable writers in addition to being superb harmonists. With soaring soprano, the flying swoop of alto and depth-defying gravitas of a tenor and a bass, and the outstanding angularity of the resultant harmonies that push the vocal envelope into the stratosphere this quartet demands to be heard, loved and respected for its brilliance and daring. You have to marvel at the writing as well as the interpretations of the group’s vocalastics by the ineffable beauty of Ritchie Cole’s playing. The alto saxophonist brings a sparkling dimension to the unbridled joy of Vocal Madness.
These are accomplished, extrovert performances of music that is well-worth hearing, clearly a labour of love for the music that has enthralled many generations of listeners since the time when Jazz was young. The close creative partnership between the singers is immediately heard from the opening “Now I have Everything But You”. Colours bloom via translucently shaded textures to densely polyphonic ecstasy towards the close—all of which is realised with expressive fluency expected from the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet. There are several other places—“Tokyo Rose Sings the Blues” and “Bossa Nova Eyes” that are perhaps the most magical, evocation of a rippling brook. Robert McBride’s silvery, keen-edged tenor, grace of phrase and sensitivity to mood and verbal nuance are ideal here; and how affectionately the soprano and alto sing in gentle colloquy with the tenor voice. Elsewhere, in “He Was A Cat” the debonair bass-voice of André Enceneat is all nonchalance until the wistful longing of “D.C Farewell” gains crucially in brightness and transparency in the response from the undulations of soprano, alto and tenor. There is never a bad moment throughout the album. The reason is that the Quartet always rises magnificently to the challenges of the unexpected oscillations between the vivacious and the elegiac.
Finally there is the presence of alto saxophonist Richie Cole a musician who is noted for his soli and accompaniment of vocalists and who brings skill and refinement as he juggles those very soli where he shows with great depth and emotional precision. Throughout the album, Mr. Cole brings a fine balance of subtlety and devastating emotional directness to the music. His attractiveness is enhanced by his performances. His delectable saxophone playing increases the enjoyment of this album exponentially. The recorded sound is gently resonant and perfect. It is one of the finest albums that that you will hear this year.
Track List: Now I have Everything But You; It’s The Same Thing Everywhere; Tokyo Rose Sings The Blues; Take Me Away; So You’re Gone; Bossa Nova Eyes; He Was The Cat; Pure Imagination; I Got Friends; Vanna Bonta; D.C. Farewell; I Love Lucy.
Personnel: Ginny Carr: voice; Robert McBride: voice; Holly Shockey: voice; André Enceneat: voice; Special Guest: Richie Cole: alto saxophone; Frank Russo: drums; Max Murray: bass; Alan Blackman: piano; Steve Herberman: guitar.
Label: HouseKat Records | Release date: December 2014
About the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet
Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet (UVJQ) puts its sublime signature on the fascinating art of group vocal jazz and breathes new life into the tradition of the great vocal jazz groups with its repertoire of original songs sung in dazzling 4-part harmony. Listeners around the world and notable jazz artists have praised UVJQ as a standout, declaring them one of today’s most creative and captivating vocal jazz groups. Critics have described them as “vocalese at its best”…”as versatile and entertaining as any vocal group you will hear”… “electrifying”…”pure fun”… sensational”…”exceptional tight-harmony group”…and “a breath of fresh air.” Read more…