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February 9, 2005

Naturally 7: What is it? Fun

Manhattan Mercury (KS):

"What Is It?" asked the poster. "What Is It?" asked the program and the T-shirts. "What Is It?' was the title of the second record album by New York a capella group Naturally 7. And also the title of the most effective of several original songs they performed last Thursday night on K-State's McCain Auditorium stage. Group leader Roger Thomas even asked the fair-sized and enthusiastic crowd the question. "What Is It?" What he meant was, what genre is the music this experienced and dynamic unit performed?

Whatever one thought it was, the songs were certainly likable. They tended to be medium tempo pieces with passages of inverted emphasis and of references to other, recognizable sources. They were long enough so that a baker's dozen of them filled the two one-hour sets. They were arranged to allow luxurious but brief harmony passages, harmony richer than do-wop harmony and with more power and snap than glee club harmony. The singers usually worked from hand mics, and the sound of these was frequently altered, for example, with echo. Every member of the group took at least one solo, and generally the solos were quite brief.

And then there is the question of accompaniment. Naturally 7's bass, Marcus Davis, usually sang as if he were a plucked or slapped bass fiddle. And Warren Andrew Thomas, younger brother of Roger, spent much of the evening imitating the sounds of a drum kit. Actually, as we heard in his extended solo during the last moments of the show, he sounded a little more like a drum machine than like a trap set. But he understood the conventional patterns very well and managed to suggest different sounds for the different drums and cymbals. The crowd loved his turn.

Every one of the seven had his own claim to notice, though. If there were standouts, among them was long tall Jamal Mackram Reed (listed as "4th Tenor"), who used his range to great effect. And Dwight M. Stewart had all the vocal R&B moves, plenty of vocal power, and good articulation. The show clipped along winningly with Roger Thomas as M.C. The group worked extremely hard all the while, and much of the time they were performing choreography while they were singing.

The subjects of the songs did not provide an answer to the question "What Is It?" Several were about religion or addressed to God, and yet the music itself was a long way from what I think of as "gospel." A medley of three Simon and Garfunkle songs had Naturally 7 working in the English Folk Music tradition. A little passage of "Wonderful World," which included a Louis Armstrong imitation which reminded me of an early 1990s athletic department TV commercial, was followed immediately by a taste of Stevie Wonder's "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." But the show wasn't "jazz," and it wasn't late "soul." There was some spoken word work, but one certainly wouldn't have called what Naturally 7 does "rap." Actually I think the real truth is that the music was mostly pop. Pop in interesting arrangements. Pop which allowed good singers to show off their voices. Pop that kept us diverted. What it was was a polished show of light music performed with vigor. Whatever you decide to call it, what Naturally 7 does is fun to watch and hear.

Posted by acapnews at February 9, 2005 12:34 AM