I recently had the pleasure of talking to singer/arranger Amy London of the Royal Bopsters for Jazziz Magazine, then reviewing their new album Party of Four for DownBeat. The Bopsters – soprano London, alto Holli Ross, tenor Pete McGuiness, and bass Dylan Pramuk – specialize in the vocalese of the bebop era and beyond. On the new album, they perform songs by Billy Strayhorn and Tadd Dameron, standards and more modern stuff, including one by Wayne Shorter. They all get the Bopsters’ treatment: twisty, 4-part close harmonies and effervescent scatting.
Since the DownBeat review had rather strict space limits, here’s the full, unabridged version.
The Royal Bopsters
Party of Four
Motéma Music MTM0372
No jazz vocal group in the 20th century cast a longer shadow than Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. They had so many things going for them: their skill as arrangers and entertainers; their ferocious swing; their ability to channel horn or sax sections; and Jon Hendricks’ ingenious way with vocalese lyrics.
All those qualities are echoed in the work of The Royal Bopsters. Their first album, which included guest appearances by Hendricks, Annie Ross, and three other all-time jazz vocal greats, Mark Murphy, Sheila Jordan, and Bob Dorough, conveyed the sense of a torch being passed. Now, after a five-year hiatus, the Bopsters – Amy London (soprano), Holli Ross (alto), Pete McGuiness (tenor), and Dylan Pramuk (bass) – are back, and their sophomore release is an entertaining gem.
The new CD is like a master class for jazz arrangers and vocalists, with Pramuk and McGuinness steering the artful arrangements, while London, Ross and Pramuk contribute clever lyrics. The album is dedicated to the memory of Ross, whose life was tragically cut short last May after a three-year battle with cancer.
Ms. Jordan and the late Mr. Dorough (in one of his final recordings) return as guests, with delightfully free-spirited vocals. Uber-bassist Christian McBride, who presented the group at the 2019 Newport Jazz Festival, adds his deep pocket to two tracks. Pianist Steve Schmidt, bassist Cameron Brown, drummer Steve Williams, and percussionist Steven Kroon, provide first-rate support throughout.
Among several extraordinary tracks, Pramuk’s arrangement of Tadd Dameron’s classic “On A Misty Night” is a standout. It’s based on two previous records: Dameron’s big band arrangement from his The Magic Touch album; and a lyric written by British singer/keyboardist Georgie Fame to a Chet Baker trumpet solo from yet another recording. The whole album is peppered with such Easter eggs for jazz and vocalese fans.
The late Ms. Ross’s version of Tito Puente’s hit “Cuando Te Vea (When I See You),” for which she translated the lyric with the permission of the iconic Latin bandleader, is another highlight. It features McBride’s compelling tumbao and an uncanny mouth-trombone solo by McGuiness, but they don’t overshadow Ross’s impassioned vocal, a fitting valediction for a terrific singer gone too soon.
Party of Four: But Not For Me; On A Misty Night/Gipsy; How I Love You (Let Me Count The Reasons); Lucky To Be Me; Why’d You Do Me The Way You Did; Day Dream; Cuando Te Vea; Baby, You Should Know It; Our Spring Song; Rusty Dusty Blues; Infant Eyes; My Shining Hour. (58:42)
Personnel: The Royal Bopsters (Amy London, Holli Ross, Pete McGuinness, Dylan Pramuk), vocals; Steve Schmidt, piano; Cameron Brown, bass; Steve Williams, drums; Steven Kroon, percussion (7,11); Bob Dorough, vocals (8); Sheila Jordan, vocals (4); Christian McBride, bass (2, 7).
Ordering info: Motéma.com