London, Meader, Pramuk, Ross with Very Special Guests – The Royal Bopsters Project
(Motéma Music MTA CD 182. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Anyone who has ever agonized over which track should open a new album will know that in most cases you want to start with a bold statement, something to grab your listeners from the get-go. The New York vocal quartet who call themselves The Royal Bopsters were spoiled for choice: not only were they all fine singers in their own right, but they had invited no fewer than five members of America’s vocal jazztocracy to guest on the album. Five years in preparation, it was eventually recorded in 2012 and 2013 and launched at Birdland, the Buckingham Palace of jazz.
Five – count ‘em! So how to start? With 80-year-old Mark Murphy – the man who, even as he entered his ninth decade, could still out-hip anyone on the planet, even Annie Ross (82), Sheila Jordan (84), or Bob Dorough (89). Even Jon Hendricks (91)?
Tricky. Anyhow, in the end they opt for diplomacy and go with seniority, so it’s Hendricks who gets the nod with his own lyric to Music In The Air, based on Art Farmer’s Wildwood. The Bopsters provide harmonized backing on all tracks in the manner of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Rare Silk or New York Voices, and it’s all as acrobatic and hi-gloss as that comparison would suggest. Amy London (soprano), Holli Ross (alto), Darmon Meader (tenor) and Dylan Pramuk (bass) are up there with the best, individually and as a group.
Murphy is next up to bat with his version of Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay, a tune he sang thousands of times in his own singing career. Here he sounds as great as ever, fast and in complete control, scatting and jumping all over the rhythm, whooping it up like a man half his age. Two of his other oft-performed numbers follow – Horace Silver’s Señor Blues and Miles’s Boplicity, (aka Bebop Lives) and on Bird Chasin’ he gets to read an extract from Kerouac’s On The Road, as he so often did in concert.
Elsewhere Sheila Jordan sings Peace, Bob Dorough sings his own Nothing Like You Has Ever Been Seen Before, and Annie Ross sings her own lyric to Russ Freeman’s Music Is Forever.
However the presence of these monarchs of vocal jazz in no way intimidates the Bopsters, who swing and scat with energy, accuracy and melodic inventiveness. They are ably supported by a quintet led by pianist Steve Schmidt. The album is beautifully produced by Amy London.