Over the years, I've been lucky enough to have hooked into quite varied musical email grapevines, and been tipped about some incredible shows that were otherwise sadly under-publicized. Last Friday night, I wished that many more of you could have joined the lucky few of us who heard Anthology and '08 Harmony Sweeps winner Vocaldente in the intimate setting of the Third Life Studio in Somerville, MA.
I must also confess that although I am an a cappella head, I can be shockingly ignorant of the sound of well-known contemporary groups that you'd think I couldn't have avoided hearing. You may laugh, but it was the first time I'd ever heard or seen Vocaldente, and I suppose many of you already know what I found out...
Vocaldente were hosted by and shared the evening with Anthology, the Boston-area women's quartet whose program "Songs of Protest and Social Unrest" I reviewed last time. This time, their set included a wide range of popular styles, from pop, to children's songs and lullabyes, to jazz, as well as samples from their previous program, which showed off the equally wide range of their vocal talents.
Having sung in a mixed vocal jazz quartet, Euphoria, for a dozen or more years, as well as in a wide variety of classical, world and popular music ensembles, I aspire to sing at the professional level of these women and I know how much hard work it takes. Their pure tones, ringing chords and astonishing ability to drop from the most unlikely places into a perfect absolute unison work the same, whether they're presenting simple songs beautifully sung, or cleverly orchestrated arrangements with shifting lead and backup lines and walking bass, or the crunchiest of purple jazz crunches. They ended their set, and wowed the crowd, with a great rendition of "Rhapsody of New York", that virtuosic takeoff of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue", written for the legendary women's quartet, Ambiance, some twenty years ago. I have a tip for song writers and arrangers: Listen to Anthology; listen to them, and then write for them. They're gonna be famous one day, and they could make you famous too.
So, about the "intimate" setting of Third Life Studio: a plain room no more than 30 by 40 feet, bare walls and at least a 12 foot ceiling; a few rows of folding chairs with 20 or so people, and no sound system, and no stage. No effects, just the pure voices. This was the setting of my introduction to Vocaldente.
Their tee shirt proclaims "A Cappella Art", and their singing has incredible artistry. They are so fast and accurate in their pitch and timing, and so tight in their ensemble sound that even very swift and fluid dynamic changes moved like one voice on a volume knob. All of them are good lead singers with great presence, and the lead could change back and forth in a song, as well as the backup structure. Often there were two backup duets, doing contrasting patterns, and often the members of the duets would change partners every 8 bars, with different timbre and volume and character, changing instantly and effortlessly at recklessly high speed. From a singer's view, they are virtuoso on their instruments.
Their repertoire runs from Scott Joplin rags (where they run arpeggios, one voice per note, that are as if they were played on a piano), to songs of Cole Porter and the Gershwins (they do great muted trumpets and trombones), to more contemporary pop (they're not heavy on vocal percussion but use it well when they do), with a couple of their German songs from the 1920s and 30s which they translated for us. They have a great sense of humor, and engage in some subtle and not-so-subtle sight gags with impish delight.
Later on, when I looked at their website and saw the places they've played and the prizes they've won, I was completely blown away... They performed for us as if we were a packed house at Sanders Theater, where they were playing the following night. We gave them a standing ovation that was as loud and long and heartfelt per capita as any they get anywhere, and they gave us three encores! They are wonderful gentlemen, and spent a long time with us afterwards.
Vocaldente (www.vocaldente.de) continue their US tour in various cities in the East, and Anthology (www.anthologyvoices.com) will perform different programs in April and May. If you possibly can, go hear them!
- David Traugot