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Reviewers: Don Mather, Tony Augarde, Dick Stafford, John Eyles, Robert Gibson, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke, Jack Ashby

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Beauty and the Beatbox

Signum SIGCD 104





1. A Fifth of Beethoven
2. Spain
3. Dido's Lament (Purcell)
4. It's Sand. Man!
5. Adagio in G minor (Albinoni/Giazotto)
6. Bolero (Ravel)
7. Cielito Lindo
8. Straighten Up and Fly Right
9. Piano Concerto 21, 2nd mvt. (Mozart)
10. Gotcha
11. Bachbeat.
Joanna Goldsmith, Julie Kench – Sopranos
Kineret Erez, Johanna Marshall – Altos
Tom Bullard, Richard Eteson – Tenors
Tobias Hug, Jeremy Sadler, Simon Masterton – Basses
Shlomo – Beatboxer (tracks 1, 11)
MC Zani, Bellatrix, Spitf’ya, Jestar – Beatboxers (track 11)

Having recently reviewed a CD by New York Voices, I was looking forward to comparing their album with this new one by the Swingle Singers. The Swingles were formed in 1962, so their wealth of experience should tell in their favour. Admittedly the personnel of this vocal octet has changed continually over the years but I didn’t expect to be disappointed by the group’s latest incarnation. Yet I am.

The main trouble is that some of the singing is not in tune - a fairly basic requirement in such a group. This tendency is noticeable on the very first track – a vocal version of Walter Murphy’s 1976 hit adaptation of the famous theme from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. On several tracks, the women’s voices are painfully shrill and the overall effect is painful. The disappointment is compounded because the Swingles have taken to creating "vocal percussion" and "beatboxing", creating percussive sounds with their mouths and voices. This gives many tracks the deadening ambience of rapping or hip-hop: a mechanistic sound which homogenises tunes and drains them of individuality.

Some tracks still impress with clever singing and imaginative arrangements. For example, Spain (by Al Jarreau out of Rodrigo, via Chick Corea) captures the vivacity of Chick Corea’s version – and the vocal percussion works well. But Straighten Up and Fly Right has none of the exuberance of Nat "King" Cole’s classic recording.

The Swingles also tackle various classical compositions, but beatbox-style percussion hardly suits such pieces as Dido’s Lament or Albinoni’s Adagio. In the latter, Jeremy Sadler makes noises like escaping steam: inappropriate for this solemn classic. And the final Bachbeat brings in a beatboxer called Shlomo and some of his chums to mistreat a Badinerie by Bach. It sounds like one of those novelty records which try to make their mark with funny noises. That grinding noise you hear is Bach turning in his grave.

Don’t get me wrong: much of this album is very clever – but altogether a bit too clever. The final score: New York Voices 5, Swingle Singers 2.

Tony Augarde


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