Swingle II: Pieces of Eight. CBS 82305 (1977)

CBS 82305 (1977). Recorded at CBS Studios, London.



Recorded at CBS Studios, London. Recording dated July-August, 1977 by Swingle Singers’s discographer and biographer Thomas Cunniffe, on Jazzhistoryonline.


Nothing truly memorable, but one of the most original of the Swingle Singers’ albums
Originally posted on Amazon.com, 20 October 2012

Well, the Swingle Singers weren’t around when Bach was alive, and he couldn’t write anything specifically for them, so they had to take possession of (or should one say “plunder”?) his greatest instrumental hits – Badinerie from Orchestral Suite No. 2, Air On the G-String from Orchestral Suite No. 2, various preludes and fugues, movements from the Brandeburg Concertos, and make them their own – usually with great respect for the originals, only substituting voices to the instruments and adding the discreet accompaniment of a Jazz rhythmic section.

Italian contemporary composer Luciano Berio was alive, and he did write for them one of the greatest pieces of 20th century classical music, his Sinfonia (and he added a few more, like A-Ronne and Cries of London). But that’s not exactly “easy-listening”.

I’m not sure pop musicians Carlos Miranda, Jeremy Lubbock, Daryl Runswick, Andy Park and Golden Gate Quartet’s pianist John Lewis will leave a name in the history of music as abiding as Bach’s and Mozart’s (in fact, I very much doubt it). But The Swingle Singers embarked on an original project in 1977 and this is it. The group by then was called Swingle II, it wasn’t any more the original, Paris-based ensemble formed in 1962 by Ward Swingle (born in Mobile, Alabama), but the new group he reformed in London after the first one disbanded in 1972. The new Swingles embraced new repertoires – not just the hits of Classical music but the standards of jazz, ragtime, Broadway, film music and the memorable or ephemeral pop successes of the day – and a new singing style, not just “dee-duming” instrumental music as the original group had done, but now singing arrangements of songs, with the lyrics, and in some cases (on their albums Rags And All That Jazz on CDB and Skyliner on EMI / Moss Music Group), even adding lyrics to purely instrumental music (ragtimes and jazz big band), in the manner of the “vocalese” brought to a state of perfection by the Hendricks-Lambert-Ross trio in the late 1950s and frenchified by Mimi Perrin’s Double Six de Paris (of which Swingle had briefly been a member).

But this again is something else: rather than singing arrangements of pre-existing music, Swingle had songs specifically written for the group “by five gentlemen who are currently making their mark in the contemporary pop field” (Swingle’s own words) – although, if this John Lewis is indeed the Golden Gate Quartet’s John Lewis (and he would be, since the Paris Swingles recorded their “Place Vendome” with him in 1966), I wouldn’t call him exactly a “pop musician”.

Carlos Miranda’s “Moves” that opens the LP is my favorite, wordless, close to progressive rock and a little more demanding than the rest. Most are in the nature of sweet sentimental ballads that won’t make you forget the Beatles (Jeremy Lubbock’s “On My Mind”, Runswick’s “How Come That I Missed It” and “Fireflies”). Some sound like inconspicuous commercial pop or Broadway, but at least are lively and gay (Lubbock’s “Domino” with lyrics by Jeremy Vincent Isaacs – who had writen the lyrics for the Swingle’s Ragtimes album, John Lewis’ “Trouble With The Tune”, lyrics by Ben Cross). Lubbock’s “No, No, No” is his imitation of Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover” (which the Swingle Singers also recorded on their 1976 album “Lovin’ You – Words & Music vol. II” on CBS, a track reissued on CD by Sony on “Swing Sing“). Andy Park’s “Searching For A Song” goes through a variety of styles, some parodied, and is based on Wanda Jackson’s hilarious hillbilly “Jesus Put a Yodel Into My Soul”. The instrumental ensemble is made of bass guitar, guitar, drums, keyboards and synthesizers (played by Swingle himself, trained as a classical pianist before turning to singing).

None of this is really memorable, but as one of the most original projects of the Swingle Singers this album deserves not to be forgotten. TT is 34:40 – which is about 4:40 better than most Swingle Singers’ LPs. Never reissued on CD.

Don’t miss my complete Swingle Singers chronological and critical discography.

Comments are welcome