New York Voices: Keeping the Vocal Jazz Flame Burning
The quintet worked into 1992, when Krieger decided to leave. Auditions were held and Kinhan landed the gig. Fox left in 1994 and New York Voices decided to stay a quartet.
"One of the reasons of choosing a quintet from the beginning partly had to do with that, as an arranger, I loved the idea of doing five notes to get these great, big, fat chords," says the ebullient Meader, who does most of the arranging. "One of the other reasons was we knew there was going to be the inevitable comparison with Manhattan Transfer, who were in high gear back then. They were coming off their success with the Vocalese (Atlantic, 1985) record and that Brazil-influenced record [Brasil (Atlantic, 1987)]. They were still quite high profile. We thought, as a quintet, we'd seem a little different." But as time moved on, "Frankly, we found that the comparisons were inevitableeven with the quintet. Ultimately, the genre was certainly comparable. So we decided to downsize to a quartet. Maybe you missed the fifth note occasionally, but most of the time we were performing with a rhythm section anyway, so there's all kinds of other harmonic information going on. And we liked the balance of two men and two women as a better sound. Not to mention, there's financial issues that get a little simpler where there are four slices of the pie instead of five."
Meader cites the Manhattan Transfer as an influence in various ways, including its broad repertoire. They did strong jazz vocalese numbers and they had cross-over hits like "Boy From New York City." "The fact they had this breadth of repertoire was something that we loved," he says, "because as much as we embraced jazz, especially myself as a saxophonist listening to a lot of big band and fusion and [saxophonists] Sonny Rollins and Julian "Cannonball" Adderley; we also all grew up listening to and loving things like Earth, Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder. The pop music of our generation. Those kind of influences all fit together under this one roof in the early days, in a way that Manhattan Transfer had also done."
He acknowledges the music industry's desire to categorize bands, which New York Voices resisted to some extent. "We liked doing a lot of different stuff, with the idea that the four-part harmony thing was the connecting thread. Over time, the fusion side of jazz got to be a littlein our opinion and, I think, in many jazz musicians' opinionsmore and more innocuous. That smooth jazz kind of thing that got less and less adventurous and more and more doctor's office jazz. We started moving further and further away from that. It didn't intrigue us to get that complacent with the sound. So over that last 15 years or so I think we've been considered more of an acoustic jazz group."
"There aren't that many groups that do what we do," says Nazarian. "You can probably list them on one hand. Take 6 came out at the same time we did. It was a different take on ensemble singing. But it still pleased the sophisticated ear. What they were doing was so amazing. I remember when their first CD came out I was in my apartment in the fetal position for a weekend, just listening and wondering, 'How do we continue our forward motion with such a force as Take 6?' But you know what? They put us right together and we toured together and it was amazing. Now we have the same booking agency in Germany and there's a chance we might be going to China together. They're great guys. We've independently been on projects together. When the universe is ready to receive, it makes room. And there is room, there's lots of room for groups like this."