LAMBERT, HENDRICKS & ROSS / “LH&R Mixtape”
Rarely can anyone say that one recording is the definitive example of a particular development of the music or, for that matter, of the importance of a master musician, but in this case, without fear of contradiction, we can say that this 2CD set (which is actually a compilation of three albums) by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross represents the best of jazz “vocalese.” Vocalese and scatting are not the same thing, although on “Popity Pop” the trio does treat us to some stellar scatting. Scatting is the use of sounds, instead of standard English words, as “lyrics.” Some people think of it as the human voice imitating an instrument. The only problem with that definition is that the human voice preceded any and all instruments. On the other hand, instrumental jazz is the specific reference for most examples of scatting. At this time I won’t go into the work of vocalists such as Jeanne Lee, Bobby McFerrin, Linda Sharrock and others whose approach to vocal jazz goes far, far beyond what “scatting” implies. Vocalese is a specific variant of singing that uses lyrics fitted to specific jazz solos and arrangements. To fully appreciate vocalese, one needs a knowledge of the reference recordings—the specific performances and not just the song in general. There is no debating that the first example of jazz scatting is Louis Armstrong on “Heebie Jeebies” from back in the twenties. The first examples of vocalese are credited to Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure. Which all brings us to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. This trio perfected the art of vocalese and no individual or group has yet surpassed them. Dave Lambert was a master at choral arranging and is responsible for the harmonic sophistication of the ensemble. It’s easy to be wowed by the group’s vocal work while overlooking that they were doing a bit more than simply “imitating” existing arrangements. Lambert’s genius was in choosing harmonic lines that would give the impression of a big band when the trio sang—and, moreover, when they sang songs that were popular among jazz fans who often knew the solos note for note. I am particularly impressed with the arrangements of the Ellington compositions, most of which are from Ellington’s majestic In A Mellotone recording. Jon Hendricks is the leading lyricist of jazz, indeed there is no one placing even second or showing up third compared to Hendricks’ ability to craft lyrics for famous jazz solos. Writing vocalese lyrics is a grueling task completely different from writing lyrics for a standard melody. For one thing, the solos are usually so distinctive that there is very little latitude. Often you will need a hundred words to cover seven or eight measures. Then the words have to be singable, you can’t just throw in the kitchen sink and expect the singer to cook (yeah, I know, that’s a horribly mangled metaphor, but I think the mixed metaphor gets the point across). So anyway, one of the reasons Jon Hendricks is a category of one as a composer of vocalese lyrics is because no one else has even tried to match him. British vocalist Annie Ross was the best pure singer of the three. Her pitch was unerring as was her timing. She didn’t have the emotional depth of the leading jazz vocalists but no one else could fit into a vocalese ensemble with the supple ease that she displayed. While she never made it big as a solo artist, within the trio setting nobody ever bested her. In jazz there have been a number of stellar combos. They are usually referred to as “classic”—think of The Ahmad Jamal Trio, The Miles Davis Quintet (both the first and second), and of course The John Coltrane Quartet, but there are also groups such as Return To Forever and Weather Report. As far as I know the only vocal group to add to that pantheon is Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. LH&R truly deserve the highest accolades for their accomplishments as a vocalese ensemble. LH&R made their music sound smooth and relaxed but it was fiendishly difficult to execute and impossible to duplicate. Indeed, when Annie Ross left the group and Yolande Bavan was chosen as a replacement, the change in the group's sound was noticeable. Although Bavan had an excellent voice, the synergy of the vocal trio just wasn’t the same. Much like famous big bands whose sound changed when personnel moved on even though the arrangements remained the same, LH&R was a unit whose individual elements were irreplaceable. If you’ve never heard them before, prepare to be blown away. If you’ve heard them a while ago, prepare to be blown away again. LH&R are superb and this collection is the best possible introduction. —Kalamu ya Salaam Lambert, Hendricks & Ross Mixtape Playlist All tracks are from The Hottest New Group In Jazz 01 “Cloudburst” 02 “Moanin' ” 03 “Hi-Fly” 04 “Twisted” 05 “Swingin' Till The Girls Come Home” 06 “Sermonette” 07 “Gimme That Wine” 08 “Walkin' ” 09 “A Night In Tunisia” 10 “Summertime” 11 “Come On Home” 12 “Mr. P. C.” 13 “This Here (Dis Hyunh)” 14 “Popity Pop” 15 “Main Stem” 16 “Caravan” 17 “Cottontail” 18 “All Too Soon” 19 “I Don't Know What Kind Of Blues I've Got” 20 “Things Ain't What They Used To Be” 21 “Rocks In My Bed” 22 “What Am I Here For?” 23 “Mellow Tone”
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