Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet – Vocal Madness – HouseKat, 64:02 ****:
(Ginny Carr – alto vocal; Robert McBride – tenor vocal; Holly Shockey – soprano vocal; André Enceneat – bass vocal; Frank Russo – drums; Max Murray – bass; Alan Blackman – piano; Steve Herberman – guitar; Richie Cole – also sax)
The tradition of group vocal jazz singing has long been a part of the music scene with one of the earliest iterations, The Pied Pipers, starting in the late 1930s as part of Tommy Dorsey’s Big Band. That particular construct disappeared after World War II along with the demise of the big bands. However standalone groups sprang up in the 1950s, with such entities as The Four Freshmen, The Hi-Lo’s, The Blue Flames, and The Swingle Singers gaining popularity.The more modern version was exemplified by The Manhattan Transfer. And now, well into the new century, the Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet takes hipness to a new level, and swings with élan on Vocal Madness.
Working with a set list of mostly original material from guest alto saxophonist Richie Cole, supplemented by several tunes from group member Ginny Carr, plus a couple of non-traditional ringers, the UVJQ put their singular interpretation on these compositions using four part voicing. This exuberant jaunt starts out in fine fashion with “Now I Have Everything But You” done in a crisp fashion, with the group constructing smart phrases and then giving way to Cole’s hard-bop alto. “It’s The Same Thing Everywhere” has a Latin theme that is engaging, with the group offering interesting harmony while Cole’s horn rides over the vocals. Then pianist Alan Blackman takes a neat solo turn followed by strong fret-work by guitarist Steve Herberman.
Another delightful swinger is “He Was The Cat”. As a paean to vocalist Eddie Jefferson, who was credited with being the innovator of vocalese, the tricky lyrics show the group’s sleek and elastic improvisations. Altoist Richie Cole runs through his solo with aplomb with some clever quotes from the tune “Work Song” by Oscar Brown, Jr. The session closes with an unusual tune “I Love Lucy” from the TV show of the same name. The Latin tempo has a refreshing lilt, that opens with a vocal run through of the theme, then an extended solo offering follows from altoist Richie Cole who appears to revel in the intensely concentrated outing. Although this Washington DC based group has received some well-deserved accolades, it merits a wider audience.
TrackList: 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; DC Farewell; I Love Lucy