The following review first appeared in the November 2013 edition of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine
New York Voices
LET IT SNOW – Five Cent Records FCR-0001 www.newyorkvoices.com Let it Snow; Christmas Song/Christmas Time; O, Little Town of Bethlehem; O Come, O Come, Emanuel; We Three Kings; Holiday for Strings; Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; Sleepers, Wake!; O Come All Ye Faithful; The Merry Medley; I Wonder as I Wander; We Wish You a Merry Christmas; Silent Night
PERSONNEL: Darmon Meader, vocals, tenor sax, alto sax, soprano sax, flute; Peter Eldridge, vocals, piano; Kim Nazarian, vocals; Lauren Kinhan, vocals; Andy Ezrin, piano; Paul Nowinski, bass; Marcello Pellitieri, drums; Bob Mann, guitar; David Finck, bass; Ben Wittman, drums; Tyler Kuebler, alto sax; Andy Axelrod, alto sax; Tedd Baker, tenor sax; Grant Langford, tenor sax; Doug Morgan, baritone sax; Brian MacDonald, trumpet; Kevin Burns, trumpet; Rich Sigler, trumpet; Time Leahey, trumpet; Joe Jackson, trombone; Jim McFalls, trombone; Dave Perkel, trombone; Lee Gause, trombone; Roger Rosenberg, baritone sax, bass clarinet; Frank Greene, trumpet; Matt Holman, trumpet; Randy Andos, trombone; Mike Davis, trombone; Studio Orchestra.
By Curtis Davenport
This album was as inevitable as snowfall at the North Pole. New York Voices have been moving in this direction since they appeared on the GRP Christmas Collection II singing a gorgeous version of “I Wonder as I Wander” in 1991. They then backed the great Nancy Wilson on a few selections on her first full length Christmas Album a decade later. Now in their 25th year as a group, we finally have the vocal quartet’s first disc of Holiday tunes, Let It Snow. It is just what you would expect from them; swinging, tasteful arrangements, strong vocal harmonies and a few well-placed surprises.
Over the years, New York Voices has been compared, understandably, to The Manhattan Transfer. They are both vocal quartets comprised of two men and two women that are closely associated with jazz. However, perhaps due to their lack of pop chart success, the NYV over the years have taken a few more chances than their more famous predecessors. This is also the case on their respective Holiday releases. I’ve always thought that the Manhattan Transfer’s Christmas Album, with the notable exception of a couple of tracks, was a disappointingly staid affair. Let it Snow, on the other hand, swings hard right out of the gate and keeps that pace going through the majority of its 13 selections.
The arrangements, which range from big band to full orchestra to a cappella are right on the money. “Let It Snow”, with a big band charts by the legendary Don Sebesky and a tenor sax solo by NYV’s jack of all trades Darmon Meader, is a joyous opener; full of blaring brass and scatted vocals. “O Little Town of Bethlehem”, arranged by Meader is a finger snapper, with creamy harmonies and a cool as winter guitar solo by Bob Mann. “We Three Kings” takes on a Middle Eastern air, appropriate for the subjects of the song, with beautiful contrapuntal harmonies. “Holiday for Strings” is a pleasant surprise as Meader’s vocal adaptation breathes new life into this old MOR radio staple. I’ve never cared for this song until now, as Meader has uncovered the hidden swing that was always there. Another winner is “The Merry Medley”, a mashup “The Man with the Bag”, “I’d Like You for Christmas” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, encased in a big band setting. Each group member takes a quick turn as the leader and “Santa…” even takes a turn as a Bossa. “I Wonder As I Wander” is back, in an arrangement quite similar to the one from GRP 20 years ago, the big difference is this time the horns are real, instead of synthesized. It still mainly exists as a showcase for their vocal harmonies, which are some of the best in the business. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is done as an extremely pleasant jazz waltz highlighted by Andy Ezrin’s tasty piano solo, Peter Eldridge’s vocal duet with bassist David Finck and some Swingle Singers inspired group scatting.
Let It Snow is a very strong Holiday album from one of the best jazz vocal groups around today. New York Voices manage to walk a fine line, with enough jazz content to keep their fan base happy and manage to keep things lively and accessible enough to be enjoyed by those who may be looking for something new for their seasonal celebration. I’m glad that New York Voices finally got around to making the album that they always had in them.