JAZZ REVIEW : Second Set of Swingle Singers Shines

The news that the Swingle Singers launched their American tour Saturday at El Camino College may bring such reactions as "The What Singers?" or "Are they still around?"

Well, yes and no. The French group formed by Ward Swingle in Paris in 1962 broke up in 1973. Swingle, moving to London, formed a new unit of English singers. Though he no longer sings, he has stayed on as adviser and shares most of the arranging chores with the current musical director, Jonathan Rathbone.

Though the present octet (four men, four women) looks so young that several may not have been born when the original Swingles first swung, the basic premise has changed little. This is not a jazz choir, but an a cappella group that performs brilliantly crafted rhythm-based arrangements. Such jazz devices as syncopation and blue notes are rarely employed.

There are some wordless numbers, such as the opening Bach E-minor fugue, but these do not truly qualify as scat singing. They are planned down to the last note, and planned to perfection.

Everything about the Swingles is flawless, from the spiffy green-and-blue uniforms to the careful choreography, but above all what counts is the superb arranging by Swingle and Rathbone, with their rich, broad harmonic blends, the uses of counterpoint and the various permutations of the voices.

The solo passages are secondary, though Nikki Sharkey's high soprano and the bass voice of David Porter Thomas stand out. The group's Beatles medley sublimated the material beyond the capacity of their originators. The only flaw Saturday was the overwhelming preponderance, with November not even over, of Christmas songs, accompanied by plugs for a Christmas album on sale in the lobby.

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