George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) and Ira GERSHWIN (1896-1983)
A Damsel in Distress (1937) (arr. Jetse Bremer)
Things Are Looking Up [3:32]
I Can't Be Bothered Now [2:52]
Stiff Upper Lip [2:35]
Sing of Spring [3:00]
The Jolly Tar and the Milkmaid [1:45]
Foggy Day (in London town) [3:27]
Nice Work If You Can Get It [2:40]
Rhapsody in Blue (1924) (arr. for saxophone quartet by Johan van der Linden) [11:28]
Shall we Dance (1937) (arr. Jetse Bremer/Pete Harden)
They Can't Take That Away from Me [3:36]
Lady be Good (1924) (arr. Jetse Bremer/Pete Harden)
Fascinating Rhythm [3:02]
Porgy and Bess (1935)
Summertime (arr. Jetse Bremer) [4:42]
My Man's Gone Now (arr. Erik-Jan de With) [3:49]
It Ain't Necessarily So (arr. Erik-Jan de With) [3:16]
O Lawd, I'm on My Way (arr. Jetse Bremer)
Johannette Zomer (soprano)
Haags Saxophone Quartet (Heiko Geerts (soprano sax) Femke Steketee (alto sax) Daan van Hoppen (tenor sax) Erik-Jan de With (baritone sax)) Michel Ponsioen (percussion)
The Gents/Béni Csillag
rec. 18-20 November 2011, Noorderkerk, Groningen, The Netherlands. Stereo and multichannel. A DSD recording

This all-male Dutch choir, founded in 1999, has made a considerable impact in just 13 years. It has recorded a number of discs for Channel, ranging from Renaissance repertoire through to 20th-century French music and a sprinkling of popular tunes. It is joined by the Haags Saxophone Quartet and percussionist Michel Ponsioen, all under the watchful eye of producer Jared Sacks, who’s responsible for the label’s many fine Super Audio recordings. Lavinia Meijer’s harp recital Visions, one of my picks for 2010, is a prime example of Channel’s high production values, combining as it does good programming, fine musicianship and class-leading sonics (review).
These arrangements are a delight from start to finish. The melting intro to Things Are Looking Up confirms these instrumentalists are a spirited, rhythmically alert band. Soprano Johannette Zomer can’t always be described as idiomatic, although her bright, silvery tones are pleasing enough; the same is true of The Gents, who are unmistakably European in their inflexions and style. That’s not a criticism, for they sing with gusto and good humour throughout. The arrangements are never less than engaging, and conductor Béni Csillag keeps his performers on their toes. Their a cappella rendition of the alliterative Sing of Spring is particularly winsome, and the recording has plenty of warmth and detail in both its Red Book and Super Audio layers.
There’s a terrific sense of fun here, with Zomer and the choir pointed and playful in The Jolly Tar and the Milkmaid. As for Nice Work If You Can Get It this has a perfect blend of jazzy languor and vocal snap that had me reaching for the repeat button. Ditto Johan van der Linden’s now piquant, now plaintive arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue, which is played with astonishing virtuosity and style by this talented foursome. Rhythms are always supple and the competing timbres of these instruments makes for a bracing musical mix. The plunging baritone sax is especially well caught, and the soprano sax - while suitably piercing - isn’t remotely fatiguing. Overall balance is immediate without being overbearing.
I did say that these forces don’t always sound very idiomatic, yet I’m prepared to eat my hat, humble pie or anything else when it comes to the verve and vigour of Fascinating Rhythm. Foot-tappin’ fabulous is the best way to characterise this fizzy little number. Meanwhile Zomer’s Summertime from Porgy and Bess is vocally agile and nicely shaded, and The Gents do a fine job as a backing group. I’m less comfortable with her steely glare in My Man’s Gone Now, although her vocal reach is certainly thrilling. I’m also lukewarm about Sportin’ Life’s big number It Ain’t Necessarily So, which is perhaps the least convincing track here.
Even though the quality of arrangements and music-making tails off towards the end there’s still much to enjoy on this disc. One last gripe though; what a pity Channel insist on flimsy, easily scuffed Digipaks for their premium products. Minor caveats, and they certainly don’t dampen my enthusiasm for this album as a whole.
Big ‘n’ brassy; fans of The Gents need not hesitate.
Dan Morgan

Much to enjoy here.

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