"...twelve singers who can be brassy like a trombone choir, duplicate the wide-open voicings and tight cluster of a reed section...and attack with all the bite of a concert big band sound, or feature exciting scatting solo voices." -- Harvey Siders, Los Angeles Daily News
"...a flawless fusion of jazz and swing, with more than just a touch of soulful gospel and funk...exciting, toe-tapping, finger-snapping format that is guaranteed to please..." -- A. James Liska, Downbeat
"...an ensemble that is unique both in the textural richness of the arrangements and in the pinpoint accuracy with which they are interpreted...achieved a flawless blend and radiated enthusiasm. The L.A. Jazz Choir is like a shimmering, shifting sea of sound." -- Leonard Feather, Los Angeles Times
"...like the Manhattan Transfer at its jazziest..." -- Elizabeth Hertigan Los Angeles Daily News
"...when a singing group shows as much craft and polish as the L.A. Jazz Choir...the experience can be particularly bracing...a crisp, disciplined outfit that knows how to swing." -- Bill Kohlhaase, Los Angeles Times
"...The (L.A. Jazz Choir's) opening salute to Porter provided the greatest nonstop entertainment of the show." -- Chris Willman, Los Angeles Times
"...The evening was kicked off by the L.A. Jazz Choir, who performed...with mellifluous verve." -- Steve Chagollan, The Hollywood Reporter
by Bill Kohlhaase, Los Angeles Times
NEWPORT BEACH-- Like a big band, a vocal ensemble can often succeed just on the size of its sound. But when a singing group shows as much craft and polish as the L.A. Jazz Choir did Sunday in a afternoon concert at Cafe Lido in Newport Beach, the experience can be particularly bracing.
Jazz is the operative word in the group's name. The choir, which is approaching its 10th year under the direction of Gerald Eskelin, concentrates on show and pop tunes done with careful consideration of rhythms. The 12-voice ensemble--which was backed at the Lido by piano, bass and drums--is a crisp, disciplined outfit that, despite its well-rehearsed demeanor, still knows how to swing.
The choir uses arrangements that take full advantage of the harmonic possibilities presented by 12 voices. Members define rhythms with percussive sounds or scat while others blend on the lyrics. Call-and-response becomes high art as members trade lines or add echoing flourishes. Rich, involved chords add emotional depth.
Dick Williams' arrangement of "The Girl From Ipanema," with its breathy percussive rhythms and snappy lyrical twists, took on new character as it moved at the pace of a stroll on the sand. A tune written by keyboardist Milcho Leviev for the late Don Ellis, entitled "Don's Song," also utilized vocal percussive effects to back a somber, Mediterranean-flavored melody.
A medley of pop tunes from back when--including "Jukebox Saturday Night," "The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy" and "It's a Blue World" (performed just last week at the Lido by its originators, the Four Freshmen), was balanced with a blues-thick version of "Sweet Dreams (Are Make of This)," the tune made popular by the Eurythmics in 1982. Eskelin asked drummer Chuck Flores to "give me some Krupa" for the introduction to "Sing, Sing, Sing" as the choir added rich harmonics to the jungle beat.
Eskelin selected members of the ensemble to take scat solos during "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid" as the members looked around nervously to see whom he would choose next--or was that part of the choreography? Rick Kasper opened with warm, rhythmic high jinks until Marcia Chastain jumped in with a more direct, can't-touch-this style. Barbara Keating capped the bop fest with sweet, soaring word-play.
The best moments of the afternoon came during an a cappella version of "Ma'am'selle" from the 1947 film "The Razor's Edge," a tune whose love-during-wartime lyrics seem especially poignant. The winsome ballad ended on an especially rich sustained chord that left the capacity audience silent at its conclusion.
The rhythm team of drummer Flores, bassist Tom Hill and pianist Eric Doney provided able support and the occasional improvisation. They did a rolling version of "Willow Weep for Me" without the choir that was anchored on the bass line of Miles Davis' "All Blues."
The L.A. Jazz Choir will appear at Birdland West in Long Beach on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
by Harvey Siders, Los Angeles Daily News,
HOLLYWOOD -- Six pairs of choristers are smartly attired in red and black pants, jackets, vests, skirts, hats, scarves and sashes, yet no two wear the same items. Such was the first impression, the visual impact, made by the L.A. Jazz Choir as they entered the room one octave above the Palace, 1735 Vine St., Hollywood, Thursday night.
As soon as the 12 mouths opened, everything came neatly together, and while each retains his and her individual physical identity, the Jazz Choir is of one voice in matters of phrasing, dynamics, breathing, attack and cutoffs.
It is all a tribute to founder-director Gerald Eskelin, whose benign but firm conducting is as fascinating as the sounds he creates and controls. Aside from mouthing every syllable and stretching every phrase with his arms as if he were pulling taffy, he reveals the same kind of leg-pull and knee-jerk reactions that horn men employ to underscore licks.
Whatever Eskelin is doing, the means produce the living end. Thursday's debut (the choir will be at the Palace each Thursday night until further notice) was a knockout. Everyone was "up" for the occasion, obviously prodded by the brilliant Milcho Leviev on piano.
Leviev did a fine job of guiding a rhythm section getting its first look at some tricky charts (Carmen Mosier, guitar; Bill Torma, bass; David Renick, drums), including two in 7/4: "Jersey Bounce" and "Don's Song," Leviev's haunting homage to his late colleague, Don Ellis.
The chorus swung effortlessly on "I Could Write a Book" and "Foggy Day," simulated brass shakes on "Tuxedo Junction" with the rousing unison tag from the Glenn Miller recording and simulated whole big-band sections on "Massachusetts."
"Mamselle" was highlighted by rhapsodic passing tones, clever reharmonizations and a number of deceptive cadences at the end that finally came to rest on a flatted fifth. The jet-propelled " Everybody's Boppin'" was lifted by some great bop vocal solos and an overall Basie crispness.
A standout among the many fine soloists was Lynn Carey, with her raucous, down-home, full-bodied scat. She also has the ability to end a chart soaring above the massed sonorities with all the conviction of a screech trumpeter. No wonder Shelby Flint called Carey "the Mae West of jazz!"