Vocal Quintet Adds Something Different – A Jazz Trio! – On New 2-CD Live Set Celebrating Musical Influences!
Nearing its fourth decade, the internationally acclaimed and Grammy Award nominated female a cappella group SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK is unafraid to experiment. To honor some the seminal music that first inspired its unique blend of folk, blues, African, jazz, gospel and R&B music, the group recently strode out of its comfort zone and designed a special “Tribute” concert presentation, boldly adding an instrumental trio to fully realize the jazz-oriented concept, their first live shows with a band. Upping the ante, the singers decided to perform this special program at New York’s prestigious Rose Hall in Jazz at Lincoln Center and to record their two-night appearance there in front of surprised and delighted audiences. Talk about working without a net!
The resultant recordings, drawn from those two shows at Rose Hall in 2011, comprise SWEET HONEY’s new 2-CD set, A Tribute – Live! Jazz at Lincoln Center. In the opening moments of the concert, group member Carol Maillard recites a roll-call of some of the great female African-American vocalists whose songs helped shape the group and comprise most of “Tribute’s” repertoire, including Abbey Lincoln, Odetta, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Carmen McRae, Bessie Smith, and Sarah Vaughan.
A Tribute – Live! is the band’s first new release in five years and 23rd overall. Their previous Appleseed release, Experience . . . 101 (2007), was their fourth children’s album and was a Grammy nominee. The group then conceptualized and prepared the Tribute presentation, a two year process, while collaborating on an original theatrical piece, “Go in Grace,” as part of the 50th Anniversary national tour of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, composing and performing their first orchestral work, and playing their own shows as frequently as ever.
On this new album, SWEET HONEY IN THE ROCK’s distinctive swirl of a cappella vocals, encompassing waves of imaginative five-part harmonies and occasional solo showcases, is heard unaccompanied, aside from the quintet’s hand percussion, on about half of the songs. Adorned with new arrangements by Sweet Honey’s members, there are jazz standards, gospel/civil rights anthems, Afro-centric songs, show tunes, blues, and a salsa-flavored original.
Interwoven throughout the presentation are the understated instrumental contributions of the trio nicknamed “the Honey Men” – Stacey Wade (musical director/piano/keyboards), Parker McAllister (upright acoustic & electric bass), Jovol Bell (drums, percussion) – who augment Sweet Honey’s exhilarating, soulful voices and confident, genre-crossing dexterity.
The group’s 2013 itinerary includes numerous dates in major US cities, including several special Tribute shows.
Their tour dates through the end of May will mark the final appearances of Dr. Ysaye Barnwell, a 34-year member of the group, who is departing to pursue her own career endeavors.