Posted by jeff on Mar 1, 2017 in A Cappella
, Song Of the week
Vocalocity – ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’
Vocalocity – ‘Problem’
Vocalocity – ‘Child of Man’
Dear SoTW Fans,
I have a confession. I’ve been cheating on you.
‘Where has he been disappearing to? One week a posting, the next week bubkes. Does he think we don’t notice?’
‘You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.’ Arthur Anonymous said that. ‘SoTW readers are way too sharp to ever be fooled.’ I said that.
I have a new love with whom I rendezvous on alternate Fridays, my writing day. Hence the lacunae. I don’t love her more than you, just differently. Her name is Vocalocity.
Vocalocity – ‘Lakachta et Yadi b’Yadcha’
She’s a 40-voice rhythm choir (‘modern a cappella’) which I founded just over a year ago with my partner in crime Ron Gang. I manage her and sing second bass. I love her, I love you, and I figured it’s time to introduce you to each other.
In the beginning, God created the human voice (the only instrument He crafted by His own hand). Noah’s family wiled away the rainy days singing animal songs in close harmony. Throughout the millennia, vocalists from Gregorian monks to The Bulgarian State Radio and Television Women’s Choir and The Mills Brothers sang in block chords, sometimes with the melody inside or on top of the chord, sometimes outside it. Then in 1984, five Swedish music students started imitating Count Basie. Jalka, you sing dum-dum-dum on the bottom; Peder, you make chucka-chucka sounds with your mouth; Anders, you do the tenor sax part; Kat, you do the alto sax counterpoint to Anders; Margareta, you do the trumpet melody way up on top. We’ll call ourselves The Real Group.
059: The Real Group, ‘Joy Spring’
Modern A Cappella – Interview with Peder Karlsson
Thus was born “modern a cappella”: five vocalists singing the arrangement (of jazz standards, classic rock and contemporary rock) in intertwining parts, frequently with an emphasis on the ‘groove’ (rhythmic pattern) created by the low bass voice (that’s me!) and vocal percussion.
In 1991, Jens Johansen formed the 32-voice Vocal Line in Aarhus, Denmark, based on the modern a cappella concept of The Real Group, but now in a symphonic rather than chamber context. Six CDs later, they’re the acknowledged gold standard of the ‘rhythm choir’. The format has grown popular throughout Scandinavia, in Germany, and in Ljubljana, Slovenia with the remarkably successful Perpetuum Jazzile.
174: Vocal Line, ‘Don’t Give Up’
188: Imogen Heap/Vocal Line, ‘Let Go’
Aarhus Vocal Festival, 2013
L2R: Ron Gang, Kevin Fox, Jeff Meshel, Erez Tal
In the spring of 2013, Ron (head of Mil”a, the Israeli Center for Choirs and Singing Groups) and I (head of nothing) hosted The Swingle Singers for a day of workshops. Inspired by the amazing response and success of the day, we invited their baritone Kevin Fox to return to Israel three times during the summer to lead a series of 10 workshops. Word went out, Erez Tal was enlisted to run auditions and prepare the group for Kevin’s visits. Thirty-five singers signed up, and Vocalocity was born.
139: The Swingle Singers, ‘On the 4th of July’ (James Taylor)
161: The Swingle Singers, ‘Sinfonia from Partita No.2 in C Minor’
There was so much magic in the air that it was immediately clear that everyone wanted to make the fling into a permanent liason. At the end of the summer, the group gave two great concerts singing eight songs and made this clip.
In September 2013 Vocalocity reformed as a permanent group with Kevin as musical director and Erez as house conductor. Ten people left, fifteen joined. During the first 12 months of activity we expanded our repertoire to 14 songs (most of them custom-arranged for us); hosted Kevin (several times), the over-talented Erik Bosio from Italy, the remarkable Line Groth Riis from Aarhus (twice), recorded backing vocals for a Swingle Singers CD, gave a number of concerts, including a first birthday celebration in Herzliya before a sold-out crowd of 800.
The first year was one of getting on our feet, getting matters organized. The second one, which began three months ago, is marked by forging a cohesive unit.
Some singers left, some joined. We now stand at 40, equally divided among the 4 (or 8) voices. A composite profile has emerged: late 20s, served in military intelligence in the army, studied computers, working in hi-tech; but along the way studied music, read notes well, with vocal training and experience singing in young groups. A smattering of others is tolerated, including professional musicians and old people.
Plans for the second year include more visits by guest conductors, two joint concerts in Israel with the Swingles in March, our international debut at the Aarhus A cappella Vocal Festival in May, recording a number of songs with Erik Bosio, and making a scripted video clip.
I love the group. Not quite as much as my wife and my family, but an awful lot. I love the music we’re making, I love the kids loving the music we’re making.
We’re still forming our personality and character and repertoire. We know we’ll continue creating innovative sounds in both English and Hebrew, young music aimed at intelligent, tasteful 30-year olds. We’re keeping our eyes and ears open to various directions while trying to enlist the finest arrangers in Israel and around the world, both from within the world of modern a cappella and without.
We’ve just started working on a great arrangement of ‘Child of Man (‘Etz o’ Perach’)’ by Noa (Ahinoam Nini) arranged for us by the mucho talented Kineret Erez; and on Shlomo Gronich’s ‘Nueiba’, arranged by the incomparable Line Groth. And we have some other surprises in the pipeline. And some more in our minds. And some that are just beginning to coalesce. In the meantime, here are some of our ‘greatest hits’:
‘Change the World’ by Eric Clapton, arranged by Kevin Fox; solo Amir Rothschild
‘It’s, Oh, So Quiet’ originally performed by Betty Hutton, made famous by Bjork, arranged by Line Groth Riis; solos Liron Morgenstern and Adi Agassi
‘Shir Makolet’ (‘The Grocery Song’), an Israeli classic, written by Danny Sanderson for Kaveret, arranged here by Erez Tal (here’s the tail at the end of the video)
‘Here’s to Life’, Line rehearsing her arrangement of the song originally recorded by Shirley Horn and Barbra Streisand
‘Mangina Avuda’ (‘A Lost Melody’), written by Matti Caspi, arranged for Vocalocity by Ohad Goldbart (check out the photo of the performance)
‘Lakachta et Yadi b’Yadcha’ (‘You Took My Hand in Your Hand’), written by Matti Caspi for Yehudit Ravitz as a bossa nova, reimagined and arranged for us by Kevin Fox; solo by Inbar Durlacher
‘Nature Boy’ – a jazz standard arranged by Anders Edenroth for The Real Group; here’s their performance, demonstrating vocal perfection
‘Nueiba’, an Israeli classic by Shlomo Gronich, here in a brand-new arrangement written for us by Line Groth
‘Eleanor Rigby’, arranged by Kevin Fox originally for The Swingle Singers and adapted by him for us; solo by Hiram Amir
And our Song of The Week? That’s like asking me to choose a favorite grandchild. Love ‘em all, completely. But this one’s young, cool, and it’s the best video, so we’ll go with it:
‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’, originally by the young British singer/songwriter Lianne La Havas, arranged by Swingle bass Ed Randell; with an amazing solo by the utterly amazing Reut Levi.
So one Friday I write about music, enjoying listening to myself ramble about some of my favorite musics. And on alternate Fridays, I participate in making great music with a great bunch of great kids (and a few adults). And I even get to provoke a lot of what happens there. So don’t ask me to choose between my two lovers. I love ’em both, each one with all my heart.
Posted by jeff on Oct 2, 2016 in A Cappella
“Modern A Cappella” is a burgeoning genre: an explosion of small groups, large groups, workshops, festivals centered in Scandinavia and quickly spreading throughout Europe and through the entire world; in America, the collegiate scene, Smash and Pitch Perfect and The Sing-Off.
The masters of the style are The Real Group, a Swedish quintet founded in 1984 and still growing in popularity. They’ve recorded 17 albums and appeared over 2000 times worldwide. TRG are also the widely acknowledged leaders of the scene, combining their status, engaging personal teaching style, and exceptionally warm personalities to inspire this rapidly growing activity.
Modern a cappella is a young person’s genre, singers typically in their 20s, the music an innovative amalgam of pop/jazz. It is distinguished from older styles of a cappella and vocal jazz groups by ‘singing the arrangement.’ A core attribute is ‘groove.’
At the time of writing, members of The Real Group were tenor Anders Edenroth, bass Anders Jalkéus, alto/soprano Katarina Henryson (founding members), baritone Morten Vinther and alto Emma Nilsdotter (replacing soprano Margareta Bengtson). Founding member Peder Karlsson became a ‘non-performing member of TRG’ in 2010, focusing his activities on teaching and conducting. Since then, Anders Jalkéus was replaced by Janis Strazdins, and Katarina Henryson has announced that she will be replaced by Lisa Östergren in coming months.
Jeff Meshel interviewed Peder Karlsson at the Aarhus Vocal Festival, May 2013.
The Real Group Meet in School
Jeff Meshel : I think The Real Group invented modern a capella.
Peder Karlsson: Well, I’m not sure I agree.
Jeff: Okay. So let’s explore it. What was your musical background, of all the five members? When you got together, what was in your ears? Is that a good place for you to start the story?
Peder: It is. And I think it’s part of the story, too. I think one interesting thing about our musical backgrounds was that it was kind of two things at the same time. We had very different backgrounds, yet very similar at the same time. We all went to the same school, which is the name is Adolf Fredrik’s Music Classes. It’s a primary school, junior high school and high school.
Jeff: You grew up together?
Peder: Yeah, but different ages. And I was kind of the black sheep. I didn’t come to the school until high school. But the other four were there from grade four. They are four years apart. So they were not in the same classes. And in this school, you have a choir class every day. And every two classes is a choir and they do concerts all the time. It’s really high quality stuff. And you have to be a really good singer to get into that school.
That school is one of the reasons Sweden is one of the major choral countries in the world. You know, when you go to a choir concert in Stockholm it’s just top class. And many of these singers come from Adolf Fredrik’s. So we have that in common, that type of choir singing that they do there. At the same time, as individuals, we had other things.
Jeff: The material there would have a traditional…
Peder: Basically, the songs that we sing on the album Stämning. That was what we sang at that school. So that was tough, some of us were just 11 years old. Those are standard Swedish choir arrangements. Every Swedish choir singer can sing those songs. It’s like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” but for a chorus. Eric Ericson, of course, also always conducted that music. So it was also something we had in common with him. He recently passed away, by the way, you did know that?
Peder: I was a guitar player, I played jazz fusion, Weather Report-influenced stuff in one of the bands I had.
In another band I had at one point was together with Anders Edenroth, that was more like funk, more West Coast. He was a keyboard player. He also had another band that was also kind of funkish West Coast type stuff. And we were a little bit like competing bands. There were always these gigs and it was a fantastic time at this particular school. We had like 10 or 15 bands in the school.
Jeff: This is in high school?
Peder: In high school, yeah. And so I played in like two or three of those bands, Anders Edenroth played in two other bands.
I was always checking out what other people were doing. And in one of those bands, the best band that I played with, Margareta Bengtson was the lead vocalist, who sometimes would sing three-part arrangements together with our tenor saxophone and trumpet player.
So Anders Jalkéus, he is a choir singer. He sang in all the choirs, including the Ericson chamber choir, everything.
He also plays several instruments, initially folk music and classical. Margareta Bengtson is a harp player and her mother is a vocal teacher. So she went to the Academy of Music to play harp. But she always sang and I think she also enjoyed quite a lot singing in the band that we had. Plus she had a vocal trio, with Carola and Annelie Berg. That was before Carola became a huge star in Sweden.
Katarina Henryson is a jazz and blues singer. Initially, she didn’t want to study at the Academy, because she wanted to learn another way, the live way. So she sang with jazz bands and blues bands, and she also had her own band where they played her music. Katarina started a vocal group, at age seven, called “Humlorna” (Bumble Bees). I think she fired the other singers pretty quickly because they couldn’t sing the way she wanted. Even at that age she totally knew what sound she wanted.
Anders Edenroth was always a band leader and a songwriter. He was very young when he started. I think he had his first band when he was nine years old and he tried to write scores for saxophone and trumpet. But he didn’t know that they transposed. So then he learned that they transposed. And when he was in his first year in high school he was in Texas as an exchange student, and ended up in a big band writing stuff for them.
And then when we started at the Royal Academy of Music in 1984, Anders Edenroth and I just found ourselves in the same class. And you know what, I’ve been following this guy. We’d been following each other for then already for several years. And we were like, then, Okay, maybe it’s time that we do something.
And there was a subject on the curriculum that was called Independent Study, you had to make an ensemble, but without a teacher. It was a requirement that you’d get ensemble experience. So we talked to Anders Jalkéus, ‘what do you want to play?’, because he can play basically any instrument. So if we needed a bass player, he could play the bass or something.
Early Musical Influences
But then there were so many other good bands. And we felt, shit, we don’t want to compete with those great players. I mean, we were good, but we were not the best players. So okay. And that was when Bobby McFerrin came out, in 1982 or 1983. He was pretty early on in his career, and he came to Sweden. He had a television program in Sweden. So Anders Edenroth and I think Jalkan [Anders Jalkéus] might have been in that conversation also. We were like, ‘Yeah, this Vocal Summit thing that Bobby McFerrin does when he does his improvisation, we can do that. But perhaps we want to do it more avant garde.’
And we needed female singers and then I said, “We have to have Margareta from my band.” And Anders Edenroth said “We have to have Katarina,” they had done projects before. She was the lead vocalist of a musical that Anders Edenroth had written, composed and conducted two years earlier.
So we booked a rehearsal room and the material we had, I think that was an arrangement of “Jingle Bells” or something. Just whatever. But it sounded great.
Jeff: There was no model here, you walked into the room, it wasn’t “Let’s do Beatles stuff, but…”
Peder: No, there was no if there was a model for me, it was Bobby McFerrin and Vocal Summit. And maybe Swingle Singers. But it was, ‘We don’t want to do that. We want to do something else.’
Jeff: I don’t know what Vocal Summit is.
Peder: That was a group that Bobby McFerrin had for a short time with three European female vocal improvisers [Lauren Newton, Urszula Dudziak, Jeanne Lee, Jay Clayton].
Jeff: I don’t remember that.
Peder: They made one LP, I still have it in my home [Sorrow Is Not Forever]. It’s a record that stretches in many directions. But they don’t bring it to a home run. Of course we had listened to the Swingle Singers and Singers Unlimited. But we didn’t particularly listen to those groups for inspiration. Of course we knew about it and we had probably sung some of that type of stuff. But, I mean, our role models would have been Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, Count Basie Big Band, Frank Zappa. Plus all kinds of classical music. And folk music. And Latin. And rock’n’roll. You know, curious people.
Jeff: I interviewed Frank Zappa.
Peder: You did? He’s like my major, major… we have to talk about that, then. I’m a total Zappa fan. Totally.
Jeff: Nice guy. Sweetheart.
Peder: I heard so from Jon Lord, you know, Deep Purple. I had an evening when I got to hang with Jon Lord. And I knew that he knew Zappa, so my first question was, “How was he?”
Jeff: Shocking, it was very early in his career. I was the first person in the Midwest to discover Mothers of Invention, very, very early, I think 1967. And the show that I went to, it was a small audience with maybe 500 people. And he was very frightening. They called themselves freaks. “Freak” wasn’t a word that you used then. It was a negative word. And he called himself a freak. What is this? It’s almost pre-hippie. Just when the hippies were starting. And I walked into the room and his appearance – I was shaken. He just says, “Hi, my name’s Frank Zappa. Pleased to meet you. What’s your name? Please, sit down.” A sweetheart.
But I want to talk about The Real Group. You said you had heard Singers Unlimited.
Posted by jeff on Apr 22, 2016 in A Cappella
, Song Of the week
There’s this kid from London, Jacob Collier. He’s 22.
Since achieving majority, he’s been releasing videos he’s produced and recorded all by himself. In his room in his parents’ home. Alone, as it were.
At least that’s his cover story. I don’t believe a word of it. I’ve been watching his videos, and I’m convinced he’s an alien. He displays musical and visual abilities way beyond the ken of Homo sapiens from Planet Earth. It wouldn’t surprise me if he turns out to be the front man for some nefarious intergalactic conspiracy to invade our minds.
Skeptical? Watch ‘Hideaway’, the first video for his debut album “In My Room”, due July 1.
See what I mean? The superhuman, multi-octave, mind-bogglingly rich vocals? His prowess on every instrument you’ve heard of and a few he seems to have invented (a miniature acoustic bass)? The outlandishly inventive visuals?
The humans I’ve encountered, even the musically gifted ones, can’t conceive of stuff like that, let alone execute it. By themselves. At the age of 22. Alone in their room in their parents’ house.
I remember, for example, hearing The Beatles’ ‘Rain’ and ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ for the first time. I remember the quantum shock in my brain experienced witnessing the leap of imagination those recordings presented:
This is something new.
This is a new world of aural and conceptual possibilities.
Jacob Collier brings to mind that degree of innovation.
One of his favorite formats has been multitracked videos of jazz and pop standards, driven by (by his own account) Brian Wilson-inspired vocals, often a cappella but occasionally garnished with a knockout lead instrument or five. I wanna tell you, this is seriously impressive stuff.
But he’s also been venturing out into the big world, starting at the top – here he is guesting with the hottest, coolest band in the world today, Snarky Puppy:
‘QuarterMaster’, a live performance in which he solos on the melodica. Seriously.
‘Don’t You Know’, from Snarky Puppy’s new DVD/CD “Family Dinner – Volume Two” in which he plays piano and sings multi-tracked, live!!, using a device he invented with a team at MIT, the ‘harmoniser’ – a thingie that enables him to sing in chords that he’s playing on a keyboard. Huh? Did we mention that he’s 22?
L2R: Jacob, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Chick Corea
But he’s also been starting to appear live, using another home-made invention in collaboration with the MIT guys, a one-man, multi-instrumental, multi-visual tool that allows him to simulate on stage the multi-track vocals/videos.
This is the kind of impression he’s been making on people:
“Talent oozing out of every pore”— Jamie Cullum
“Fucking unbelievable” — David Crosby
“The most talented kid on Earth today” — K.D. Lang
“Magnificent!” — Chick Corea
“Blown away” — Steve Vai
“I have never in my life seen a talent like this… Beyond category. One of my favourite young artists on the planet – absolutely mind-blowing” — Quincy Jones
“Wow!! Jacob, your stuff is amazing” — Herbie Hancock
“Staggering and unique… Jazz’s new messiah” — The Guardian
Conquering the world
I don’t know how far he’ll go, this alien whippersnapper.
His guiding light is Brian Wilson. His new album is named after the Beach Boys’ song, ‘In My Room’. Here’s Jacob’s ruminative piano treatment of the Brian song. (For comparison, check out Paul Simon’s solo treatment of ‘Surfer Girl’).
Gary Usher, co-writer of the lyrics with Brian: “‘In My Room’ found us taking our craft a little more seriously. I played bass and Brian was on organ. The song was written in an hour… Brian’s melody all the way. The sensitivity… the concept meant a lot to him. When we finished, it was late, after our midnight curfew. In fact, Murry [the Wilson brothers’ father] came in a couple of times and wanted me to leave. Anyway, we got Audree [the Wilson brothers’ mother], who was putting her hair up before bed, and we played it for her. She said, ‘That’s the most beautiful song you’ve ever written.'”
Brian at 22
Brian: “I had a room, and I thought of it as my kingdom. And I wrote that song, very definitely, that you’re not afraid when you’re in your room. It’s absolutely true.”
Jacob echoes not only Brian’s harmonic and orchestrational genius. He also speaks of ‘his room’ as his natural environment.
One of the innumerable talents of Squire Jacob that I find profoundly unsettling is his self-assurance. He’s out there doing mind-bogglingly new and exciting stuff with folks like Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock and Jamie Cullum, and he behaves with aplomb and confidence as if as if he’s been selling tens of thousands of copies of this stuff for 10 years.
Let’s step for a moment into the form/content dichotomy.
Jacob at 22
In purely musical terms, at 22 Jacob is way beyond Brian. He’s not churning out the original surfing/hot rod hits that Brian was at that age; but he is going to town harmonically in a way Brian would only begin to attempt several years and several albums later in “Beach Boys Today!” But as an innovator of sound, technique, tools? Jacob is standing on Brian’s shoulders. The Wilson brothers had a midnight curfew, and the personal computer was 30 years away. I don’t know if Brian even had a reel-to-reel machine when he wrote ‘In My Room’. Jacob really does create a new world every three or four days (that’s how long it takes him to make a multitracked ‘cube’ vocal video).
I see Jacob potentially playing in a league with Brian Wilson, even John and Paul, some day. Why maybe? At the same time that they were creating new worlds of options, they were creating indelible, lasting music. Jacob’s not doing that yet. My sense is that he’s still rather overwhelmed by the tools and techniques he’s inventing as he goes along.
‘Hideaway’ is a big step forward. It’s an original song, although I admit that I thought at first it was penned by that prolific songwriter Trad, sort of like James Taylor’s ‘That Lonesome Road’. (I don’t think I was thinking of Bing Crosby’s 1933 ‘In My Hideaway’.) After you’ve amazed your brain a few times watching the video of ‘Hideaway’, try listening to it without the carnival of lights and images and personae and invention.
The song. It’s almost as good as the video.
Brian Wilson’s genius goes beyond those harmonies and that orchestration. Both serve to celebrate the core, the song. As brilliant as is the whole of each of the worlds contained on the Beach Boys’ finest songs, it’s all finally in service of the song, even “Pet Sounds”, even ‘Good Vibrations’.
As a musician, Jacob Collier is still a kid, albeit a prodigiously gifted one. He’s just beginning to venture outside his room, almost literally. If he has the focus, the fiber, the soul, to concentrate on core values – melody, lyric, song structure – Jacob Collier could well be one of the major musical voices of his generation.
Here’s a fine video of Jacob explaining how and why you should consider reaching into your pocket and supporting him. Know what? I did. It makes me a patron of the arts, to kick in a little dough for a kid I have so much respect and hopes for. Think about joining me in supporting him.
If you liked this post, you may like enjoy these previous Songs of The Week:
230: The Beach Boys, ‘Here Today’ (“Pet Sounds” Unsurpassed Masters Vol. 14)
118: Brian Wilson, ‘Surf’s Up’ (“SMiLE”)
004: The Beach Boys, ‘Kiss Me Baby’
Posted by jeff on Apr 3, 2016 in A Cappella
, Song Of the week
I like to think I’m neither completely stupid nor wholly detached from reality. So if our Song of The Week is by a Norwegian a cappella sextet that prides itself on a synthesis of folk, jazz and ethnic music, I do understand that we’re not pushing mainstream fare here. Or that if the song itself is billed as ‘a melodic battle’ between Irish and Norwegian folkdance music styles, even I get that this isn’t the most commercially appealing middle-of-the-road music you may encounter this week.
But it is among the finest and most exciting music I’ve heard in a long time.
Just so you realize I’m not alone in enthusing over this music, let me quote some other critics: “Something that has never been heard before.” “Musicality is superb, blend amazing.” “Everything an a cappella fan could want: beauty, emotion, and wonderfully sung music. Even to the English listener, it is a treat. Now if only the a cappella scene would gain as much traction in the US as it has in Northern Europe.” “Spellbinding. Groups wishing to push the boundaries of a modern cappella would do well to listen.” “Their creative folk music is sure to drop more jaws than just mine.” “Be prepared for a very unique experience. Kudos to Pust for boldy pushing the envelope for a cappella music.”