Beauty and the Beatbox

The Swingle Singers

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Beauty and the Beatbox Review

by Stephen Eddins

Beauty and the Beatbox is the Swingle Singers' first album in which all the tracks are accompanied by vocal percussion, specifically the sound of the human beatbox. Some of the tracks are accompanied by British beatboxer extraordinaire Shlomo. He and the members of the ensemble are awe-inspiring in the realism of the effects and in their ability to keep up the patterns, never discernibly taking a breath. The new arrangements, with a full range of new percussion effects including scratching, might seem a far cry from the relatively chaste light jazz beat the group added to Bach in the ensemble's early efforts in the 1960s, but Ward Swingle remains an advisor to the group and has obviously given his blessing to this more radical departure from tradition; in fact, he contributed one of the more out-there arrangements, which inspires the most remarkable performance on the album. The group's absolute vocal control and musicality ought to be enough to silence skeptics who might object to applying a modern beat to Dido's Lament and the Andante from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, for instance, or the conflation of the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony with "Stayin' Alive." One of the most appealing performances is a dazzling, hilarious version of Boléro, and "Straighten up and fly right" by Nat King Cole and Irving Mills is a hoot. Much credit goes to the numerous arrangers who managed to make the album's outrageous conceit completely persuasive. Signum's sound quality is vivid, warm, and present.

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