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Improvisations for the Human Voice

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Album 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). The LHR story begins in early 1945, when Dave Lambert and his friend Buddy Stewart persuaded top bandleader Gene Krupa to record a side with their modernistic vocalizing (the title was "What's This?"). Lambert and Stewart recorded more sides during 1946, and when Stewart died in a car accident, Lambert inaugurated a full vocal group to record his experiments. By 1955, those experiments also included whiz-kid vocalist Jon Hendricks, perhaps the vocal world's best young Charlie Parker acolyte (as well as friend). Two years later, their apartment jam sessions and recordings began to encompass Annie Ross, who had showed her improv chops as early as 1952, when she recorded with the king of vocalese, King Pleasure. Before they landed on Columbia, however, they recorded an LP of Count Basie charts (Sing a Song of Basie) and another Basie-inspired LP (Sing Along with Basie), but with the complete Basie group playing along. At 25 tracks, this disc is expansive enough to include seven Lambert sides from the '40s, four early Ross songs from 1952, a trio of Hendricks/Lambert recordings (including their landmark version of "Four Brothers"), and still find the space for the majority of Sing a Song of Basie, one track with Basie himself, and five rarities from 1958-1959. It's clear that newcomers should head directly to recordings from the Columbia years, but these tracks comprise a wealth of seminal vocal sides by the most inventive minds in the art of vocalese.


Formed: 1957

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s

The premier jazz vocal act of all time, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross revolutionized vocal music during the late '50s and early '60s by turning away from the increasingly crossover slant of the pop world to embrace the sheer musicianship inherent in vocal jazz. Applying the concepts of bop harmonies to swinging vocal music, the trio transformed dozens of instrumental jazz classics into their own songs, taking scat solos and trading off licks and riffs in precisely the same fashion as their favorite improvising...
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