HomeThe Idea of North: a way with words, an extraordinary sound

From The Web's picture

Singer and self-confessed a cappella-holic Chris May immerses himself in The Idea of North’s savvy, upbeat sound.

In November 2007, my mind was firmly on Scrabble as I prepared to compete in the national team tournament held annually in Malaysia. Swapping anagrams in Kuala Lumpur with a jovial carload of players from Australia, Malaysia and Canada, the last thing I expected to hear was a radio trailer announcing the presence in KL that very evening of a certain Australian jazz a cappella quartet of which I am a longtime fan. We all duly attended The Idea of North’s gig – a nice relaxed one, as I recall – and ended up chatting to the group for a good hour or two afterwards. I’d expected a cappella anecdotes, but alto Naomi Crellin and tenor Nick Begbie both turned out to be avid Scrabble players with far better knowledge of the game than the average punter. I’m not sure who was more surprised by the turn of events, but we weren’t short of conversation that evening.

Humility and level-headedness off the stage, self-deprecating wit on: those qualities, valuable in anyone making any kind of music, have surely helped over many years to raise The Idea of North to a level where stellar is standard. The SATB quartet has a serious claim on the title of Australia’s best-ever vocal ensemble, and its eighth album, Extraordinary Tale, makes a return to its classic sound. The disc presents a collection of previously unrecorded fan favourites and, unlike much of the group’s work in recent years, is purely a cappella. The thirteen tracks show off Idea’s traditional strengths in spades:  wonderful musicianship, sure-footed harmonies (mostly Crellin’s), a highly varied vocal palette, a sound that routinely seems too impossibly rich to come from just four singers, and the ability to make navigating an exceptionally thankless and exposing musical genre sound effortless. Successful chamber music requires a unified sound to be realised without loss of distinctiveness in the individual voices, and there, too, The Idea of North shines. Few a cappella groups around the world could say as much.

Read the rest

Tags: ,