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"CD Review -A New Dance-"

A New Dance
Syncopation |
By C. Michael Bailey

I am getting ill tempered in my old age. I wanted to finally find a disc that I disliked, and I thought it had been delivered in the form of A New Dance by the vocal quartet Syncopation. There was everything not to like. As a devotee to the Manhattan Transfer, I felt there was nothing else to be gained listening to a group of kids trying to dethrone the great New York Quartet.

On, Me of little faith.

A New Dance is a throughly modern, bright, and fresh take on ensemble jazz vocals that effectively updates the entire genre. "You Don?t Know What Love Is" has a lightweight, breezy bossa personality and "My Romance" at first blush sounds as if arranged by 'NSync and Nelson Riddle. These songs are not bad, but they also in no way prepare you for the remainder of the recording.

Cyndi Lauper?s "Time After Time," one of the last "standards" created by Miles Davis, starts off cool and calm and then rocks. Christine Fawson?s broad alto is recorded somewhat back, even with the piano. When the entire vocal ensemble enters, the magic of this group becomes patently apparent in their superb taste in arrangements. There are more right and left vocal turns than you expect, providing constant delight by what is just around the next corner.

The centerpiece is a light speed "Cherokee," featuring Tiger Okoshi's best Dizzy Gillespie. This is pure bebop and Okoshi illustrates the difference between a good trumpeter and a great one. The scat singing is at speed and breathtaking. The best tracks are the a cappella pieces ("My One And Only Love" and the superb "Both Sides Now"). This critic calls for a totally a cappella offering from these vocalists. Youthful exuberance and no fear make this group the jazz vocal group to beat.
- All About Jazz

"Vocal quartet refuses to be confined to standards"

Vocal quartet refuses to be confined to standards

By Steve Greenlee, Globe Staff, 8/15/2003

It may seem incongruous to imagine a group of people in their 20s getting all excited about singing "You Don't Know What Love Is," but get ready to meet the vocal quartet Syncopation.

Based at the Berklee College of Music, Syncopation has been together less than a year but has been touring hard on the strength of its gorgeous voices and harmonies. Think of a 21st-century Manhattan Transfer or Lambert Hendricks & Ross. It does everything from the bebop staple "Cherokee" to Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."

"We are all huge jazz fans," says Christy Bluhm, 26, the group's soprano. "But we all agree that good music is good music. And if you have talented musicians playing good music, it's going to be a fabulous experience."

Syncopation has a full slate of concerts in the coming week -- tonight at the Acton Jazz Cafe, tomorrow at All Asia Cafe, Sunday at the Rat Pack Cafe in Framingham, and Thursday at Ryles Jazz Club. A rhythm section and guest horn players will back the group at each show except tomorrow's, which is a cappella.

The group had its origins in a class at Berklee taught by Cheryl Bentyne of the Manhattan Transfer. Bluhm and bass singer Tsunenori "Lee" Abe, 27 -- who met in September -- took their project beyond the classroom and hooked up with alto Christine Fawson, 22, and tenor Jeremy Ragsdale, 21. They recently released a CD, available at shows and on "Lee and I decided we wanted to take the group to the next level," Bluhm says. "It has kind of risen out of the Berklee classroom atmosphere, and we're doing really well."

The quartet has been playing around the area as well as Japan. "It's just a wonderful place for jazz, especially vocal jazz," she says. "They're so into it. They have larger audiences and show a lot of enthusiasm for it over there."

Abe, in fact, has sung in a Japanese pop vocal group called Baby Boo -- "sort of a Japanese answer to 'N Sync," Bluhm says -- so not only does he know the terrain over there, he also draws from his experience as a pop singer. This may be why Syncopation's version of "Time After Time" sounds so natural sandwiched between "My Romance" and "My One and Only Love." And it is why it's no surprise the group is expanding its catalog of pop tunes.

"But our hearts belong to jazz," Bluhm says. "We've been listening to this music since we were teenagers. Personally, jazz has always called to me because it's very accessible."

How do they choose their songs?

"We have a little democracy," Bluhm says. "We vote on tunes in a very informal way. Lee [the group's arranger] especially is very good at taking songs that wouldn't be thought of as jazz songs or a vocal piece and turning it into something we can use. . . . When we were talking about putting songs on the CD, we were considering how it would sound as a whole. Everybody has at least one song on the CD they're not crazy about, but everybody realizes that consensus and compromise are part of this group."

Bluhm says the group has long-term plans as its members peel away from Berklee. Fawson, also a trumpeter, graduated in 2002. Abe graduated this spring. Bluhm and Ragsdale have a couple semesters left. This, and being from different parts of the country (and Japan), can make getting together a challenge.

"It's amazing how much can happen when you have four very driven people," Bluhm says. "The summertime makes everything crazy. We all keep in touch via e-mail. But when we get together, it is intense Syncopation time!"

Steve Greenlee can be reached at
- Boston Globe


A New Dance (2003)
Of Blue (Geneon Entertaiment INC, Japan: 2004)
Wonderful You (2008)



The Boston Globe calls Syncopation the "Manhattan Transfer of the 21st Century," and it is easy to see why. Like that legendary vocal group, Syncopation performs jazz and pop music that is both timeless and up-to-the-minute. These four young singer/musicians have performed across the U.S. at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival, the Tri-C Vocal Jazz Festival, the Boston Globe Jazz Festival, the Meihou Music Festival, and the 2004 and 2006 International Association for Jazz Education Conferences in New York City. The group also regularly tours Japan.

The style of Syncopation includes bebop, latin, and pop influences. The group usually performs with a band, but their a cappella performance earned them first place at the 2008 Boston Harmony Sweepstakes. Each of the four singers is also an instrumentalist and is occasionally featured playing trumpet, trombone, piano, and percussion.

Syncopation was formed in Boston in January of 2002 and mentored by Cheryl Bentyne of the Manhattan Transfer. Their first album, A New Dance, was released in 2003 and featured contributions from bebop trombone legend Phil Wilson, formidable jazz fusion trumpeter Tiger Okoshi, and Paul Stiller of the vocal group Vox One.

In 2004 the group signed a record contract with Geneon Entertainment in Japan, and their album Of Blue, recorded in Tokyo and featuring some of Japan?fs hottest jazz musicians such as pianist Satoru "Salt" Shionoya, was released in nationwide in Japan in November of that year.

On Syncopation?fs 2008 album, Wonderful You, the group reinterprets pop songs from the past 30 years. R&B, soul, folk rock, fusion and electropop are transformed by jazz harmonies, rhythms and style. This recording features Syncopation?fs touring rhythm section of Mark Shilansky (piano), Steve Langone (drums), Greg Holt (bass), and Marcus Santos (percussion).

All About Jazz calls Syncopation "a thoroughly modern, bright, and fresh take on ensemble jazz vocals that effectively updates the entire genre." Currently the group is aggressively pursuing a strategy that would expand their touring base from familiar jazz clubs and venues in New England to concert halls and jazz festivals all across the nation.

Syncopation is:
Aubrey Logan, Christine Fawson, David Thorne Scott, and Tsunenori "Lee" Abe.