The Swingle Singers: "Weather to Fly"

September 2013

Weather to Fly50 Years and Still Going Strong

World Village 450025
Format: CD

Musical Performance
****1/2

Sound Quality
****

Overall Enjoyment
****

Can it be? The Swingle Singers are 50 years old, and Weather to Fly is their first 50th-anniversary album. It seems like only yesterday that the brainchild of Ward Swingle swept in from Paris and informed us that Bach and other Baroque composers could be successful with a hot-jazz treatment. The group has gone through a lot of personnel changes in their half century of existence. Ward Swingle left the group to form his own New Swingle Singers and is still alive, back in Paris after a stay in the United States, doing new arrangements and guest conducting.

Throughout most of its extensive history, the group has been composed of eight vocalists, singing a cappella or with only percussion and bass accompaniment. The current group performs almost entirely a cappella and is down to seven singers: three women and four men. Their names are Sara Brimer, Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson, Clare Wheeler, Oliver Griffiths, Christopher Jay, Kevin Fox, and Edward Randell.

Though at first it was their swinging interpretations of Bach that got the group noticed, they quickly migrated to other music and proved that just about anything can be swung. They have lately perfected beatbox music, which is a form where some of the singers imitate percussion sounds while the others sing over them. The opening number, Elbow's “Weather to Fly,” establishes the style right away with Christopher Jay's imitation of a shaker under the lead vocal. Various percussion sounds build consistently and most effectively. Almost all of the songs on Weather to Fly use beatbox style, but the one I found most exciting was "The Diva Aria" from the film The Fifth Element, which finds Sara Brimer's powerful coloratura soprano soaring over intense vocal percussion effects.

Astor Piazzolla's "Libertango" gets a similar treatment. There are also ear-popping versions of the Beatles' "Lady Madonna," Tears for Fears' "Woman in Chains," and an absolutely scintillating rendition of Beyoncé's "Single Ladies," appropriately re-titled as "Swingle Ladies." The overall mood of the set is breezy and light, so it seems quite OK that a bonus track is given over to an intense and dramatic performance of the more somber "Poor Wayfaring Stranger."

One could relegate the Swingle Singers to the novelty category, except for one obvious thing: all of the singers are consummate musicians who can soar with a lyrical line, giving impeccable attention to phrasing and expression. The recorded sound is rich and full, about what you'd hear live, since the group sings with microphones.

Happy 50th anniversary to a unique singing group that has maintained its high standards for five decades.

Be sure to listen to: The haunting, fluttering bell tones in "Nana." I can't recall ever hearing this effect more perfectly executed.

. . . Rad Bennett
radb@soundstagenetwork.com

More SoundStage! Videos

  • Is Room Correction the Answer? The NAD M33 Integrated Amplifier Review (Take 2, Ep:18)
  • Can Small Speakers Sound Better? DALI Menuet SE Loudspeaker Review (Take 2, Ep:17)
  • Peter Thomas: From the BBC to PMC - SoundStage! Icons (October 2020)
  • Focal Diablo Utopia Colour Evo Loudspeaker Review (Take 2, Ep:16)
  • Sonus faber's Paolo Tezzon on the New Lumina Loudspeakers - SoundStage! Talks (October 2020)
  • Is This the Best Class-D Amplifier? Purifi Audio's Eigentakt Amplifier Review (Take 2, Ep:15)
  • The Simaudio Moon Product Universe - SoundStage! Talks (September 2020)
  • Magico A1 Loudspeaker Review (Take 2, Ep:14)
  • Inside the KEF LS50 Meta - SoundStage! InSight (October 2020)
  • Naim Audio Supernait 3 Integrated Amplifier Review (Take 2, Ep:13)
  • Elac Alchemy DDP-2 Streaming DAC/Preamp Review (Take 2, Ep:12)
  • How Hegel Approaches Integrated Amplifiers - SoundStage! Talks (September 2020)
  • Nordost Talks Clocks, Oscillations, and Synchronization - SoundStage! Talks (September 2020)
  • PMC Fact.8 Signature Loudspeaker Review! (Take 2, Ep:11)
  • Which is Better? Elac Navis ARB-51 vs. Focal Shape 65 (Take 2, Ep:10)
  • Amphion for the Home, the Studio, and Billie Eilish - SoundStage! Talks (August 2020)
  • The NEW Hegel H95 Integrated Amplifier Review ! (Take 2, Ep:9)
  • Estelon: Loudspeaker Excellence and Originality from Estonia - SoundStage! Talks (August 2020)
  • Zero-Distortion Amplification: Halcro Out of Hiatus - SoundStage! Talks (August 2020)
  • Best Active Speaker? Elac Navis ARB-51 Speaker Review (Take 2, Ep:8)
  • Vivid Audio's Inventive and Spectacular S12 Loudspeaker - SoundStage! InSight (August 2020)
  • Qobuz Hi-Res Traction and Younger Listeners, with David Solomon - SoundStage! Talks (July 2020)
  • Schiit Audio Ragnarok 2 Integrated Amplifier Review (Take 2, Ep:7)