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208: Vocalocity, ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’

Posted by jeff on Mar 1, 2017 in A Cappella, Song Of the week

cave60Vocalocity – ‘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.

היכל אומנויות הבמה, הרצליהI 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.

cropped059: 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

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’

IMG_2891 - LEVELS copyThere 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.

IMG_2948The 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.

132_6217Plans 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.

היכל אומנויות הבמה, הרצליהWe’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

IMG_5798 - CROP+LEVELS copyMangina 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

reutAnd 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.

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228: Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini (Noa)/Gil Dor, Vocalocity — ‘Zeh Po, Zeh Mugan’

Posted by jeff on Dec 31, 2015 in A Cappella, Israeli, Song Of the week

a-r-g-1‘Zeh Po, Ze Mugan’ – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)

‘Oh, How I Miss You’ – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)

‘Tumma’ – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)

‘Mishaela’ (‘בעיניה’) – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)

‘Zeh Po, Ze Mugan’ – NotesAre (Roger Treece, Achinoam Nini and Gil Dor, Vocalocity)–Extended Version

The Dream

A guy can dream can’t he? A person should dream. You never know…

For many years I’ve been living inside the music I listen to. Like any other devotee suffering from arrested development, I’ve played with my little tin soldier fantasy Dream Teams, even in my dotage. What if Bill Evans and Gil Evans had collaborated?  What if Laura Nyro had followed David Geffen to Asylum Records? What if John and Paul had realized their dream of playing with Buddy Holly? I recently had the very good fortune to play Dream Team for real.

a-r-4The Scene

I’ve been an avid activist in the burgeoning ‘modern a cappella’ scene, especially in its European flavor, for the past ten years. The Real Group, The Swingle Singers, Rajaton, Vocal Line, even Pentatonix. I do live in and for this music, so it is with great love that I say that its form and technical sophistication has far outrun the content. There’s tons of great technique and very little creative, new, substantial music. It so often comes down to very clever, very charming, very sophisticated covers.

The Masterpiece

a-r-1And then came “VOCAbuLarieS” under Bobby McFerrin’s name, but actually composed and scored and masterminded by Roger Treece. He coaxed motifs from Bobby’s improvisational experiments and architectured them into seven coherent compositions. Roger: “I was trying to harness the way Bobby takes ideas, sounds from all over the world and alchemizes them into a new language.”

Bobby: “I’ve never worked so closely with another writer who could create around what I do. As an improviser, everything exists only in the moment, and then you let go of it. But in this context, Roger would hear something I did once, write it down and build the material into a fully scored theme and variations form, and then say, “Here, sing this.” It was old and new, mine and not mine. It was a challenge for me.”

The Process

r-g-2I listened to “VOCAbuLarieS” a couple of million times, and it became quite clear to me that this was the first important creation to come out of the music I love so dearly. So I jumped at the chance to have a sit-down with Roger at the AAVF a cappella festival in Aarhus, Denmark in 2013.

We talked Bible and belief, vocalisms and musical vocabularies. I told Roger that it seemed to me that VOCAbuLarieS was (among many other things) exploring the very roots of the voice and music (to which he readily agreed); but suggested that the palette could be expanded beyond the African and classical sources of his masterpiece. I raised the idea that he should come to Israel – the crossroads of three continents, the intersection of African and and North African and Mediterranean and Middle Eastern and Near Eastern cultures, a country of immigrants in which young people are conversant in 70 different musical languages. Roger is very Bible-oriented, so the idea of visiting God’s home court was greatly appealing, and he readily agreed, in principle.

I went back home to the wholly holey Holy Land and had the great fortune to form (together with my partner Ron Gang) Vocalocity, a 40-voice modern a cappella group under the musical direction of Kevin Fox (UK, The Swingle Singers), conducted by Erez Tal.

a-1So now I have the ear of this likeminded mad genius composer/arranger and a vocal orchestra at my disposal. And I’m thinking “Israeli Vocabularies”. How to take the Treece/McF achievement a step further? What could be done to Israeli-ize the source materials? I started thinking of potential collaborators. And the name of one artist appeared as though it had been waiting inside the magic lantern to be conjured up—

Achinoam Nini, or as she’s known world-wide, Noa. Born in Israel to a Yemenite family, raised till her teens in New York, she’s a virtuoso singer defying categorization. She’s had a remarkably varied and sparkling career both in Israel and internationally for 25 years. Her music draws from the pools of American singer-songwriters to her Yemenite roots to jazz, opera, traditional Italian, and classical Israeli. Together with her long-time musical partner and collaborator Gil Dor, she’s displayed an exceptional mastery of a wide range of styles and genres in collaborations from Andrea Bocelli to Sting to Pat Metheney. She’s a warm and unpretentious person, an outspoken peace activist who provokes no little controversy in her home country for her relentless pursuit of her political agenda. A woman of the world, Made in Israel, a true musical polyglot.

picasso04The formula wrote itself:
Roger + Achinoam/Gil + Vocalocity = Something New
Not just new. Achinoam’s melodic and percussive inclinations, Gil’s harmonic and structural predilections, and Roger’s unique abilities to grasp the ephemeral, to ‘architect’ the fleeting moment of the magic that can only emanate from the (almost always, but not here!) ungraspably improvised. Together they could permanentize the moment. I think of Picasso’s ‘light paintings’.

Now all that was necessary was to move this meeting of luminaries from my imagination to reality.

Roger and Vocalocity met at the Aarhus festival in May, 2015. We talked about the actuality of The Project – later to be named by Achinoam “NotesAre”, a homonym withנוצר  (‘Created’) – based on bringing him to Israel for a series of workshops, presentations and rehearsals. Roger was game from the git-go. I spoke to Achinoam (the luxury of living in a small country). She heard “VOCAbuLarieS”, said “It’s a masterpiece”, and graciously agreed to make time between her extensive touring and personal commitments for her and Gil to participate in a series of three workshops with Vocalocity and Roger.

a-r-3A lot of people have asked me why Achinoam and Gil agreed to participate in such an experiment (gratis—because we could never have afforded their fees). After all, they are stars with a very demanding schedule and lots of obligations.

Truth be told–they’re musicians. Dangle a juicy artistic challenge before them, they can’t resist. In these first three years of managing the virtually unfunded Vocalocity, I’ve too often said to professional musicians “I can offer you an exceptional musical opportunity, a unique instrument to play on, but unfortunately no (or very little) money.” They always listen. They’re musicians. I hope the day will come soon when we can pay people their just rewards.

So with the backing of Mil”a (the Israeli choral organization which Ron Gang heads) and the US embassy in Israel, we set a series of three workshops together in mid-November, two at the beautiful Elma hotel/music center, the third in front of an audience on the lovely stage of the YMCA, almost unadvertised for contractual reasons. But that was okay—we called it a ‘happening’, an open workshop, as opposed to a concert. It was all about the process. Real musical engagement, not a show.

NotesAre

a-r-v-1Roger sent us all a batch of ‘palettes’ to warm up our ears and voices – extended phrases in gibberish, choral chord progressions with intricate interlocking rhythms between the voices – such as Bring Us Home and Du Mac Dum. Vocalocity went over them with Roger via Skype. We sent them to Achinoam and Gil, but they were off with the Pope and Andrea Bocelli, so we figured they wouldn’t have a chance to go over the palettes before the workshops.

At our first tripartite meeting, Achinoam walked into the room carrying her palpable charisma, her warmth and a pile of papers. Greetings and hugs. What are those papers? “Well, Gil and I were listening to some of Roger’s gibberish lyrics, and some words started to coalesce. Like in “Bring Us Home”, ‘zinko zemuga’ became “Zeh po, zeh mugan (זה פה, זה מוגן)”, which in Hebrew means “It’s here, it’s protected”.

a-v-1You have to remember—Israel’s a volatile place, tsuris by the barrelful, and Achinoam is a passionate, indefatigable peace activist. Words as simple as “It’s here, it’s protected” carry a tremendous valence. ‘Here’ is no generic center, it’s here in this wacky, wonderful country of Israel. ‘Protected’ is safe, secure—not from bogeymen, but from real threats. From Ayatollas with nuclear reactors, ISIS, and teenage girls carrying knives. Achinoam said that the song expressed her nostalgia for a different, a better Israel. I personally felt the words saying ‘Here, now, we have the ability to protect ourselves against adversaries’. It’s art, open to different interpretations. That I choose a different one from Achinoam is absolutely legit. In any case, we’re talking about the same subject.

השיר הזה מוגן מפני הפחד\השיר הזה מוגן מפני כאב\השיר הזה נולד הרגע\השיר הזה בוקע מן הלב.\השיר הזה ישן וגם מפתיע\השיר הזה רחב כמו הים\השיר הזה מביט בנו, תומך וגם מריע\השיר הזה שלי ושל כולם.

This song is protected from fear/This song is protected from pain/ This song is born at this moment/This song arises from the heart./This song is old and surprising/This song is as wide as the sea/This song looks at us, supports us and cheers/This song is mine and everyone’s.

The Music

v-1So we started singing. “Zeh Po” is nine minutes long, during the course of which my dream comes true. Roger assigns a bass riff. Then adds the baritones, then each of the other voices, in interlocking phrases whose interaction bouncing off each other provide the internal combustion driving the music forward. Gil Dor is coloring it in, providing a secure harmonic underpinning. Achinoam begins to improvise, providing a linear, melodic focus to the mix. This is our first time singing “Zeh Po”. You can watch the magic, the moment of creation, right here.

Here’s the same ‘piece’ several nights later. It’s been polished just a tad, (“choreographed” is Roger’s term). At about 5’50” and again around 9’00” you can hear that wonderful, mad clockwork complex of rhythms interacting.

JARG-2Achinoam coaxed one other distinct piece from a Roger palette. She cast a Yemenite spell on “Du Mac Dum 2”, giving us “Away You’ve Gone”. Achinoam and Gil and Roger and Vocalocity making the music I’d imagined three years earlier. I’m in heaven.

I wrote to Roger: “Well, the Achinoam/Roger/Gil amalgam worked. You can imagine how thrilling it was/is for me, especially when I learned that you’ve never really gone nose to nose with a solo voice in your weight class. I feel like I’ve helped facilitate a new kind of music being born in real time of the musical intercourse of two fine artists, each complementing the other, creating a whole neither could create alone.”

He responded more soberly: “Those two pieces are definitely working, but they’re two lines of a story that has yet to be written.”

I think we all feel that we’ve tapped a seam of gold. We put together a great virtuoso singer, the mad genius of modern choral music and a wonderful vocal orchestra. And we created Something New, something of beauty and substance, something that has never been done before, a new musical direction, one I passionately hope will continue to evolve in the future.

Sometimes dreams come true.

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