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New York Voices

A Day Like This

(MCG Jazz; US: 28 Aug 2007; UK: Available as import)

Jazz vocal groups have become a strange hybrid niche in recent times. Feeding from the troughs of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross vocalise, doo-wop/a cappella, and radio-station-jingle-singing in almost equal measures, groups similar to the Manhattan Transfer have courted both pop success and jazz legitimacy. New York Voices is a classic quartet of singers who do this uneasy blend with as much grace and professionalism as possible. On A Day Like This they assay bop, Brazilian, pop, and more with a vocal blend that could open a thousand Starbucks franchises. When it’s good it’s fairly exciting, as on the chilly-swinging “Darn That Dream” or the scat-infused “On a Clear Day”. But in too many spots this kind of thing is reminiscent of the “easy listening” of the 1960s, with these smooth-as-brie voices sounding the “101 Singers” doing Stevie Wonder (“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”) or Laura Nyro (“Stoned Soul Picnic”). The original tunes have the advantage of not sounding repackaged and prettified, so Lauren Kinhan’s “As We Live and Breathe” is tasty, and the true a cappella passages are plain virtuosic. As fine as these singers are, when they sing solo they seem vaguely anonymous. For harmony singing jazz fans, however, this is pretty close to a wet dream. But more like an old Playboy magazine than the real thing.

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Will Layman is a writer, teacher and musician living in the Washington, DC area. He is a contributor to National Public Radio and frequently appears as a guest on WNYC's "Soundcheck" as a jazz critic. He plays both funk and jazz in the bars and clubs in and near the nation's capital. His fiction and humor appear in print and online.


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