Modern jazz combined with choral vocals has not been in vogue during the genre's varied history. Some notable recordings such as drummer Max Roach
's It's Time
(Impulse, 1962) and trumpeter Donald Byrd
's melding of jazz with spiritual vocals on A New Perspective
(Blue Note, 1964) were prolific outings of this ilk. And on Byrd's album, the piece titled "Cristo Redentor" received a fair amount of jazz radio play for decades. But New York-based pianist Eri Yamamoto
's new venture, featuring a large cast of vocalists performing under the moniker Choral Chameleon, is rather atypical; yet it spurs heavenly implications. Moreover, the jazz current is intact, so it's not operatic or designed with rigid musical speak.
The trio's jazzy hooks, swerving rock pulses and buoyant mode of attack is shaded with the vocalists' divine aura and jubilant chants. However, dynamics abound when the trio raises the pitch, culminating in a tuned-in working unit that disseminates good cheer throughout. And on "Part 3" of the Goshu Ondo Suite, the musicians' gel to a rollicking jazz vamp, spiced with bop and the leader's cascading chord developments. Yamamoto also uses space as a reference point amid alternating currents and vocal group's refrains.
"Part 6" features a male and female vocalist trading fours so to speak, caressed by the pianist's ever-so-subtle accompaniment, seeded by a striking series of progressions. Here, the rhythm section enters the scene about mid-way, sprinkled with Yamamoto's lovely passages, contrasted by bassist David Ambrosio
's probing solo, mirroring the primary theme.
On paper, the album may allude to roads previously travelled given the lineup. But the strength of the pianist's compositions, largely brimming with melodic motifs and bristling interplay, sheds a nouveau light on these musical persuasions, where vocal arrangements are akin to big band charts. It's a manifold process consisting of vocal improvisations, structured movements, chants, scat and a bevy of tonal aspects that coalesce into an uplifting presentation, transcending most expectations and quashing all or most attempts at second-guessing the end result. Replay value is high.