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Moss

4.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Audio CD, April 8, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Individually, they are five phenomenal and distinctive vocalists: Theo Bleckmann, the effusive German-American meistersinger known for his brilliant collaborations with Meredith Monk, Steve Coleman, and Laurie Anderson; Peter Eldridge, an eclectic vocalist, composer, and member of the New York Voices; Lauren Kinhan, known for her charismatic voice, genre bending originals, and her dedicated years as a member of the New York Voices; Kate McGarry, a vocal polymath at home with the folk tradition and the Big Apple bandstand; Luciana Souza, the Brazilian whose repertoire ranges from bossa novas and Elizabeth Bishop to Steely Dan. Together, they are MOSS, A vocal supergroup that intertwines jazz, classical, pop, folk, electronica, world music, and poetry into an arresting and unique sonic species of art. On their debut recording, they are supported by electric guitarist Ben Monder, bassist Tim Lefebvre; drummer/percussionist Ben Wittman, and acoustic guitarist Keith Ganz (with Eldridge on piano and keyboards).

I was on a train from New Jersey a few years back, and I bumped into Peter Eldridge. We had talked about working together ... recalls Luciana Souza. [W]e fantasized about a project where we could join other like-minded singers to write, study, rehearse and blend our different styles of singing, creating a collective sound ... [H]ere we had a group of intelligent, open-minded, and unique singers. Subsequent meetings in Souza s Upper West Side apartment led to their first gig in 2005 at Manhattan s Joe s Pub. They ve also performed in greater Los Angeles and at the Merkin Concert Hall in New York.

This thirteen-track project, recorded in 2007, opens and closes with elegiac excerpts from Joni Mitchell s Shadows and Light, and features a spare and soulful reading of Neil Young s Old Man and a hush-toned, harmonium-tinged take on Tom Waits Take It with Me. McGarry s musical rendering of poet e.e. cummings i carry your heart with me (i carry it in is carried off with finesse. Object Devotion is a collaborative effort between Souza, Kinhan and Eldridge feeling waltz-like, like Miles Davis-meets-Willie Nelson. Eldridge s Busy Being Blue and the Kinhan / Eldridge There Alone Go I, ring with steel-guitar/Chet Baker-ish style balladry and hand-drummed hues. Kinhan s Lavaliere dances with world rhythms, Bleckmann s Orchard rings with tabernacle tenderness, complemented by the lullaby lilt of Longing, augmented by bass clarinetist Michael McGinnis and cellist Jody Redhage. The CD s lone instrumental/worldless vocal track, These Things Take Time is an uplifting, mid-tempo selection laced with Monder s flying and fluid solo. Throughout this exceptional recording, the vocal quintet s contrapuntal harmonies, silken phrasing, and soulful improvisations traverse and morph genres with ease and invention. Hopefully, each song reveals the curiosity and uniqueness of each voice, Luciana Souza writes in the CD liner notes, and the wonderful and intangible thing that happens when a group of friends blend their voices and sensibilities into one.

Review

Get this. This jazz vocal supergroup has just created the greatest vocal fusion of jazz, rock and folk music since the first record by Bobby McFerrin 26 years ago. And Moss' version of Neil Young's "Old Man" in Kate McGarry's and Peter Eldridge's arrangement is the most extraoridinary jazz version of a great folk rock song since McFerrin's version of Lennon and McCartney's "Blackbird." You've never before encountered anything that even remotely resembles their blend of close harmony, folk song, classical composition and jazz rhythms. The singers involved are Brazilian jazz singer Luciana Souza, jazz/folk singer Kate McGarry, jazz singer Peter Eldridge, downtown genre buster Theo Bleckmann and Lauren Kinhan of, yes, New York Voices. It's as if they invented an entirely new blend of urban madrigalism for the 21st century, composed of coffee shop, jazz club, off-Broadway theater and church basement. It's not all on the same incredible level, but what's great here is amazing.
- Jeff Simon --Buffalo News - Apr. 1, 2008

Innovative vocal ensembles are a rare breed, and Moss is sui generis. The brainchild of New York Voices singers Peter Eldridge and Lauren Kinhan, wistful Brazilian Luciana Souza, delectably upbeat Kate McGarry and "mad" genius Theo Bleckmann, Moss grew slowly and quietly far from New York's mainstream limelight.

Moss draws wide covers from folk-rock (Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits), lyrics from poets (McGarry's exquisite contrapuntal setting of an e.e. cummings love ode) and great inspiration from within the sympathetic singers' circle. Their superbly attuned voices weave vocal tapestries plush as velvet, mysterious as photosynthesis, nuanced as clouds, yet simple as greens. Moss digs into and blends medieval plainsong with gospel (easy-listening but hard-parsing "Object Devotion"), folk with jazz (a deeply empathetic "Old Man") and avant-garde harmony with electrified Eastern ululations ("Orchard," Bleckmann's hair-raising setting of mystical Sufi poet Rumi). It's as uncategorizable as it is enchanting.

The stately pace of this debut is as daring as the venture itself. Seldom rising above poised whispers and medium tempo, Moss magically informs each song with sweet, dreamy texture that speak with astounding self-assurance. (Without Souza, an April date at Scullers in Boston rang more extroverted). Moods evoked are fascinatingly complex: exhausted yet exuberant ("There Alone Go I"); bemused yet belligerant ("Busy Being Blue"). All's coolly planned and paced, if little improvised: Ben Monder and Keith Ganz's guitar solos are welcome brief understatements. Drummer Ben Wittman produces edgy sensitivity and wide-eyed ardor. Beautiful moments grow when you listen twice: the five-part resolution on "Home," sublimely serene backup on "Take It With Me," the open-road wordless brushed samba.
- Fred Bouchard --DownBeat - July 2008

It began with a chance meeting, onboard a New York-bound train, between Luciana Souza and Peter Eldridge. They began to ruminate about various friends who shared their enthusiasm, and prowess, for vocal experimentation. A sort of jazz vocal summet. Theo Bleckmann's name came up, then Kate McGarry's, then Eldridge's longtime New York Voices compatriot Lauren Kinhan. Bringing the five together, the goal was, says Souza, "to write, study, rehearse and blend our different styles of singing, creating a collective sound."

A 2005 gig at Joe's Pub and a subsequent performance in L.A. led to this project. As Moss (a curious name whose roots remain mysterious), they set out, says Souza, to shape an album "that reveals as much about who we are as people as it does who we are as singers. Hopefully, each song reveals the curiosity and uniqueness of each voice, and the wonderful and intangible thing that happens when a group of friends blend their voices and sensibilities into one. " She need not worry.

All-star collaborations can be tricky, and often disastrous, endeavors, plagued by ego clashes and cross-purposes. Not this one. What emerges is a series of soft-hewed hymns, drawing on the poetry of Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Neil Young, e.e. cummings and all five of the participants, that are at once soulstirring , majestic, comforting, inquisitive, hypnotic and wise. Indeed, as Souza suggests, their beauty is ultimately intangible.
- Christopher Loudon --JazzTimes - June 2008
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (April 8, 2008)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Sunny Side Records
  • ASIN: B0014DC0IC
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,610 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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I need to preface my comments with the fact that vocal ensemble music is by far my favorite musical genre. That being said I have become quite jaded with the offerings of the last 10 years. McFerrin's "Voicistra" was honestly to my ear the last recording that pushed the bar forward while remaining musical. This isn't to say that I haven't heard good recordings and good performances lately, just not ones that were both innovative and truly musical. MOSS is just such a recording. It has reinvigorated my love of this genre and reminded me that when it comes to music anything is possible.

All the technical qualities are there. Blend, tuning, vowel placement, sense of ensemble but that is to be expected with musicians of this caliber. MOSS is so much more than that. It is a truly unique and incredibly beautiful work of art that I will never tire listening to.

"Old Man" is stunning and "I Carry Your Heart" a wonderfully sweet and treatise of such a beautiful and familiar prose as gentle as a snowflake that can be destroyed merely by the act of observing its beauty.
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Anyone familiar with the many first-rate recordings put out in recent years by Luciana Souza, Kate McGarry, and Theo Bleckman will quickly snatch up this remarkable CD. Add in Peter Eldridge and Lauren Kinhan of New York Voices (who I was not previously familiar with) and you've got the most daring vocal group of our time. Stylistically, MOSS is anything but predictable. The songs range from the rootsy folk rock of Neil Young's "Old Man" and electronically-processed ambient tones of Bleckmann's "Orchard" to the Metheny-ish "These Things Take Time" and the classical/gospel "Object Devotion." You'll also find a couple of ballads and a bit of bossa nova (though suprisingly sung by Kinhan, not Souza).

Shadows and Light, the Joni Mitchell composition which both opens and closes this CD, is also the title of a live album that captured Mitchell's pathbreaking folk-jazz-rock period. Like Mitchell, MOSS's five diverse singers cannot be pigeon-holed: among them, their prior works traverse the range from contemporary classical and big band jazz, to Bjork, bossa nova, bebop, scat, ambient, avant garde, pop, rock, folk and more. But despite the fact that both McGarry and Souza are excellent interpreters of Mitchell, this is not another Joni tribute record. MOSS makes no attempt to project a single idea or create a single group sound; instead it showcases the polymorphous and wide ranging talents of the group. One thing is consistent, however: the high level of songcraft and exceptionally beautiful singing across the 13 tracks on this CD.

My favorite piece is McGarry's fugal arrangement of e.e.
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A vocal jazz group consisting of Kate McGarry, Theo Bleckmann, Luciana Souza and the New York Voices' Lauren Kinhan and Peter Eldridge is, by any other name, a "supergroup." After all, these are 5 of the finest young jazz vocalists in the world today.

But the formation of a group such as this begs a question: "Are we talking about a 'supergroup' such as 'Cream' - i.e., one whose whole equals or possibly exceeds the sum of its parts, or are we talking about a 'supergroup' such as 'Blind Faith' - i.e., one whose whole is less?"

After a few listens, here is my verdict: "Cream" All the Way, Baby.

I'm familiar with Mr. Bleckmann from "No Boat" and "Origami," and from those c.d.'s I expected this probably to be a wild, spacious, trippy production. Not exactly so, although there are no finger-snapping uptunes here.

Instead, it appears (as Luciana Souza explains in the liner notes) that these 5 got together with each bringing arrangements literally to the table, and the 5 molded and shaped them to be unique to the arranger's voice but harmonically common to the group.

Forming a professional vocal jazz ensemble is a difficult thing to do. The object - however you get there - is to make the ensemble something unique, without sounding "barbershopper-y" or "community choir-ish," but retaining the acute sense of pitch, blend and timing that the best of such groups contains. And "Moss" does that, and then some.

Virtually everything here is a highlight. The chant of Bleckmann's "Orchard" rings in my memory, days after I have last listened to the disc. Yet the trippiest thing here is the opening of Eldridge's "Busy Being Blue" over the expansiveness of Ben Monder's guitar chords.
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What's Moss? Take some DNA from Sheila Jordan, Joni Mitchell, Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters, and the less showy and more sophisticated side of The Manhattan Transfer. Moss has amazing vocal interplay; the supporting voices always make the leads sound even better than they otherwise would. Exceptional song choices, both the covers and the originals. This didn't leave my player for months, and I keep coming back to it.
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