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February 6, 2004

Boston Globe

The voices we usually associate with New York are not the kind we'd rush to see. Who'd want to pay for a sitter and drinks just to hear a couple of guys trading insults? Fortunately, New York Voices, the vocal quartet appearing at Scullers tonight and tomorrow night, have long used their gifts in the service of great harmony. whether offering their unique take on a song by Duke Ellington or Paul Simon.

"We've been together for 16 years now -- longer than a lot of marriages I've known," jokes Darmon Meader by phone from his northern New Jersey home. The Voices' tenor, arranger, and occasional saxophonist, Meader started out as an instrumentalist. But, he says, he "always loved to sing. I was in every kind of choir. In college, someone introduced me to the music of Manhattan Transfer and Singers Unlimited, and I was fascinated by that sound. When you're singing in ensembles, feeling those chords vibrate, it feels so good."

Meader met soprano Kim Nazarian, bass baritone Peter Eldridge, and two other founding members of the group while all were students at Ithaca College in the mid-1980s. Originally formed as a quintet, they released their first, self-titled record in 1989. A couple of subsequent personnel changes resulted in the downshift to a quartet. The current lineup, with alto Lauren Kinhan, has been together since 1994. In addition to the half-dozen recordings they've made under their own name, New York Voices has been a guest on numerous recordings, including two Grammy-winning collaborations with the Count Basie Orchestra and saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera. The group's last album was 2001's big band tribute, "Sing! Sing! Sing!" (Concord). Recorded at the tail end of the swing revival, the CD is getting a little long in the tooth, a fact that Meader is happy to explain. "Both Lauren and Kim have had their first child since the CD came out," Meader says. "It was the group's priority to let that settle in. They've both done an amazing job keeping up with our touring schedule."

The vocal ensemble sound can reward even the most dedicated instrumental jazz fan. Listening to the group sing a familiar favorite can help you appreciate the song's harmonies all over again. And the pure power of a quartet, particularly when backed by a rhythm section, as New York Voices will be at Scullers, can quickly make you a fan of new songs as well. But let's be honest. At times, those same pristine harmonies can sound -- well, just too darn perky. Meader acknowledges that vocal groups don't float everyone's boat. "It's a small niche in the jazz world," he says. "Not everybody who enjoys jazz digs the vocal ensemble sound, but those who do really seem to be very avid fans."

"They knock me out," says vocalist Jon Hendricks, whose vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross put jazz singing on steroids with their 1957 debut, "Sing a Song of Basie." The spry 82-year-old continues to tour the world and is in his fourth year teaching music at the University of Toledo. Speaking from his Toledo home, Hendricks explains that the jazz vocal group can often reach audiences in ways instrumental groups cannot. "When someone sings, it's easier for the audience to hear it," he says, "because words are what the audience uses to communicate with each other." Hendricks, who has shared the stage with New York Voices, has nothing but praise for the group. "When you can look at their faces but can't tell who's singing what, that's when you know a group is blending," Hendricks says.

Posted by acapnews at February 6, 2004 8:25 AM


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