In Celebration of the Human Voice - The Essential Musical Instrument
Few recording artists can claim innovation let alone revolution. The 1950's vocal trio of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross fit into that small category of performers who effectively turned a genre upside down. Expanding upon the technique known as ''vocalese,'' by which a jazz singer adapts an instrument to the human voice, Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks and Annie Ross applied the style beyond the usual intimacy of a small combo to full big band arrangements. Their sharp and witty vocals, energetic delivery, and stupendous harmonies took the jazz world by storm, making instant stars of the three performers and inspiring a host of similar acts, such as the Hi-Los, the King Sisters, and the Manhattan Transfer.
The trendsetting trio had its beginning in a partnership between Lambert and Hendricks during the mid-1950s. Lambert, a well-respected vocalist with a reputation as an adventurous performer, had made his mark on the jazz world during the 1940s. He and former partner Buddy Stewart had been among the first singers to work in modern jazz. They were best known for their hit ''What's This?'' with Gene Krupa. Hendricks, a singer and lyricist who had been working in vocalese for most of his career, had several R&B hits under his belt when he decided to tackle the project of writting lyrics to the famous Woody Herman tune ''Four Brothers.'' The arrangement, however, required more than one voice. Knowing Lambert by reputation only, he contacted his fellow vocalist and offered him the chance to help record it. The song was a success and the two men decided to form a team.
After several more recordings as a duet the singers decided to take on the music of Count Basie. Their daring plan called for the use of a 12-man vocal choir to recreate the full arrangement. One singer would represent one instrument. Unable to find enough talented vocalists who could sight read music, they decided to hire studio singers and contacted jazz vocalist Annie Ross to coach them. The results were disastrous and the idea of using a choir was dropped. Unwilling to give up, Lambert and Hendricks decided to experiment with the relatively new process of studio multitracking to create the same effect. They asked Ross to help. Ross could not sight read music but knew the original Basie recordings by heart.
Little was expected of the finished recordings, but when Sing a Song of Basie was finally released in 1957 on ABC/Paramount it became a smash hit. An equally successful follow-up album ensued, with Basie himself supporting the trio. The three singers were in high demand. In 1959, however, they decided to take a different direction musically. Realizing the limits of multitracking, they abandoned the gimmick and hired a rhythm section. The resulting effort earned them even greater accolades. The trio recorded four more albums together on the Columbia label and also pursued solo projects.
In 1962 Ross, tired of touring, called it quits. Lambert and Hendricks choose Yolande Bavan for the impossible job of replacing Ross. Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan recorded three albums for RCA. None were as successful as those of the previous trio, and the group broke up in 1964. Sadly, Dave Lambert was killed in a car accident in 1966. Jon Hendricks continues to perform. Annie Ross also continued singing and working in films. Though they only graced the musical landscape for a few short years, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross left an indelible mark in the world of vocal jazz that has yet to be equaled to this day.
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Review: Fans of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross specifically, and vocal jazz in general, have long heard about the early sides recorded before the trio came together in 1957. In fact, each member -- Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks, and Annie Ross -- was separately a pioneer in bop-inspired vocal improvisation, the type of vocalizing that concentrated on the most purely musical aspects of singing. The El Records compilation, Improvisations for the Human Voice, compiles 25 of those early sides and provides a terrific complement to their best recordings, the string of LPs they recorded for Columbia between 1959 and 1962 (which were collected on an excellent two-CD compilation, The Hottest New Group in Jazz). These tracks comprise a wealth of seminal vocal sides by the most inventive minds in the art of vocalese.
Review: Of course, Lambert Hendricks and Ross are no longer new, though they were the epitome of cool jazz in the 1950's. This re-issued double CD set contains a career retrospective - 39 songs worth, though not everything that was on the (unfortunately) discontinued "Twisted" CD - and is a fabulous value. The three personalities of Dave Lambert, Jon Hendricks and the British Annie Ross complimented and balanced each other uniquely, pushing the jazz envelope, while always retaining their warmth and sensuality. Accompanied by a rhythm combo, and sometimes horns, songs such as "Caravan," "Moanin'" and "Centerpiece" are just as vital now as they ever were. Highly recommended.
Review: To listen to this trio reveals what a great influence this group has been on so many artists, in terms of choice of material and style. The most sophisticated and hip vocal treatments - Hendricks was a foremost developer of the vocalese technique - they change moods on a dime and are impossible to predict. Ross takes the lead on "Midnight Indigo," a sultry trickle of sweat on the back of the neck. "Moanin'" mixes up roadhouse blues with the sweetest of refrains. "Summertime" is just on the inside of a discordant wail, an eerie lament. Also included: "Cloudburst" and "Centerpiece."
It's Sand, Man!
Review: The first album that launched their career, the trio of Jon Hendricks, Dave Lambert and the English Annie Ross pioneered the use of voices patterned on instrumental parts. The daring of this group creates a giddy excitement, which can be heard on tracks such as "It's Sand, Man," whereby the three voices (accompanied by piano, bass and drums) gain altitude in a series of ascending patterns that thrill the senses. Though Ross in particular possesses a fine voice, the attraction is not in the prettiness of the sound as much as the interplay of the voices, and the utter originality of their interpretations. Every song is enchanting.