Juice Vocal Ensemble

Snow Queens

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Britain's Juice Vocal Ensemble, a pair of sopranos and an alto, is sometimes called experimental, and it's true they're doing things nobody else has done before. But the word gives the impression of something freewheeling, while the experience of listening to the ensemble is likely to bring different terms to mind. "Exacting" would be one: the three women sing harmony -- more often dissonant intervals or the open fourths and fifths of medieval music than the common practice type -- and they achieve impressive precision. And the program reveals research as well as inspiration: the mix of pieces is unique, and it suggests a great deal of thought preparation. There are of course many British vocal groups that sing American music, but the way it is treated here is new. Sample Winter Sky, a song by American country composer Billy Edd Wheeler that was sometimes sung on television by Judy Collins back in the day. One of the members came to it that way, but it's far from a common item. The Juice Vocal Ensemble draws connections among various kinds of folk and traditional material, using their own arrangements; their version of the Coventry Carol is arguably the most haunting one out there. These are augmented by contemporary works that the trio itself has commissioned: they put out a call for works on a winter theme that would fit their a cappella sound, and many of the results are stunning. With the most sparse of resources, the Juice Vocal Ensemble has fashioned a gripping winter-themed release.

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