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January 29, 2009

Swingle Singers upload decades-old legacy

Birmingham News (AL):

Since the Swingle Singers' first heyday in the 1960s, when their jazzy, wordless arrangements of Johann Sebastian Bach topped the charts, they have evolved to a slick, fully-developed pop ensemble. The a cappella octet's show Tuesday at Samford University Wright Center was nicely choreographed, heavily miked, and driven by arrangements of songs that everyone knows.

From its covers of James Taylor and Joni Mitchell to the Beatles and Count Basie, these were taut, harmonically vibrant arrangements that were immaculately sung.Yet they paid homage to their Alabama-born founder, Ward Swingle, in Bach's "Badinerie" and and an American folk song medley.

Noticably different from the early days were the lyrics. They no longer sing exclusively in scat syllables, although the dah-bah-dah-bah-dahs, oohs and aahs surface profusely in accompaniments. The "rhythm section" consists of bass Tobias Hug, who would like to claim the Guinness record for the world's lowest note (yes, it was very low), and Kevin Fox, whose vocal percussion created the illusion of live drums.

But when words were called for, which was most of the concert, they were sung stylishly -- Lucy Bailey in Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," a schmaltzy, Broadway-inspired "Fascinatin' Rhythm," a Beatles medley and the four female singers in a a lusciously harmonized "Amazing Grace."

The trademark Swingle sound, so indelibly etched in pop culture four decades ago, has faded as pop trends have come and gone. But the current Swingles, clearly devoted to their founder, have kept the legacy alive. A dreamy, wordless version of Erik Satie's "Gymnopedie," a jazzy Beethoven's Fifth that morphed into the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" and Michael Jackson's "Bad," a Chopin waltz turned into Sting's "Until," were creative and fun.Further proof of their wordless classical roots came with an encore, Mozart's Overture to "The Magic Flute," which turned out to be one of the concert's most exhilarating numbers.

The concert was a benefit for Birmingham Boys Choir, who are raising money for their upcoming Japan tour. Before the Swingle Singers took the stage, director Ken Berg led the boys in several numbers, including a sweetly harmonized rendition of a Japanese song.

Posted by acapnews at January 29, 2009 12:00 AM


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