Meeting Of Minds plays more like a merger than an encounter. And that, after all, is how all successful collaborations should feel. Hearing Bob Mintzer's big band and New York Voices join forces for a trip through newly-arranged takes on '30s and '40s gems from the Great American Songbook is a reminder that some music can ring timeless and appear pliant all at once when placed in the right hands.
New York Voices has paired up with other large ensembles in the past—the Count Basie Orchestra and the WDR Big Band, to cite two—but this marks the group's first on-record meeting with Mintzer's airtight outfit. And with a shared appreciation for precision swing, expansive and expanded harmonies, and Latin settings, it turns out to be a perfect fit.
The integration of Darmon Meader's vocal writing with Minzter's big band charts is seamless, with one set of hands enhancing the work of the other. In knowing both what to add and, of equal importance, what to leave out, both men prove sympathetic in their contributions. The album opens with a Latin-swing hybrid arrangement of "Autumn Leaves" that finds the band working like a well-oiled machine and the voices in perfect sync. Kim Nazarian and Lauren Kinhan light the way, pianist Phil Markowitz makes the first of his many marks, and alto saxophonist Bob Sheppard steps into the spotlight. A jaunty and warm "I Concentrate On You" with a Peter Eldridge vocal lead and an instrumental take on "I Want To Be Happy" with a smoking trumpet solo from Scott Wendholt follow and help to instantly diversify this portfolio.
With shifting stylistic ground, more than half of the band personnel soloing at one time or another, and each of the vocalists taking center stage at various times, there's never a problem with variety here. What's remarkable, in fact, is how it all ties together into a unified sound. A gorgeously heart-wrenching "I Get Along Without You Very Well" with an Eldridge lead, a slowly funky "Old Devil Moon" with an attractively smoldering Kinhan out front, and a one-off trip to original territory with Mintzer's swinging "Weird Blues" (sans vocals) all feel right at home with each other. The marriage of the Bob Mintzer Big Band and New York Voices is simply a match made in heavenly harmony.