Monday, February 23, 2015

The Real Group represents pop harmony vocalism polished to a fare-thee-well at University of Indianapolis

Anders Jalkeus (second from right) was replaced here by Janis Strazdins.
In celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center, the University of Indianapolis welcomed a vocal ensemble celebrating its 30th anniversary to grace the Ruth Lilly Performance Hall.

Nearly all its 500 seats were filled Sunday afternoon as the Real Group, an amiable, well-honed quintet from Sweden took the stage with an ethereal vocalise. Hand-held microphones — their blend exquisitely engineered — are an essential ingredient of the sound, with occasional assistance from an electronic sequencer.

The latter device gave a nice overlay to the singers' harmonies in "Words," an original song that opened the show. The power of words in English — both sung and spoken — gave the three Swedes, one Dane and one Latvian (substitute bass Janis Strazdins) immediate rapport with the audience.

The patter, the arrangements, the fluid movement around the large stage — everything was polished and snazzy.  There were touches of gentle satire — male voices dominated the quizzical scrutiny of men's dilemmas today in "The Modern Man" — but more often we got tuneful messages from the mellow side: Errol Garner's "Misty," RG member Katarina Henryson's "Commonly Unique," RG tenor Morten Vinther's paean to soprano Emma Nilsdotter's son "Lucky Luke."

I understand the Real Group's range includes Scandinavian folk songs and classical pieces, but Sunday afternoon we heard just one of the former from that end of the spectrum. The prismatic pop music emphasis included international icons Michael Jackson and George Michael, in addition to a tribute to the late Swedish singer Alice Babs ("Scandinavian Shuffle") among the group's own songs.

There was some comparison of the Real Group in publicity for this concert to Lambert, Hendricks & Ross of hallowed memory, but I picked up little jazz feeling from the quintet's performance. They displayed rhythmic acuity, joined to accurate intonation, and the vocal interaction was nimble and texturally diverse. For example, Anders Edenroth sometimes switched mics, one presumably allowing him to shore up Strazdins' bass more, the other favoring the upper portion of his range.

The Real Group knows its stuff, all right. There's not a hair out of place, musically speaking.

They reminded me of the Hi-Lo's, an all-male quartet highly regarded in the 1950s and '60s for their smooth execution of clever arrangements, drawing mostly on Great American Songbook pop. Like the Real Group, the Hi-Lo's had a jazz-inflected style with perhaps a little too much polish to remain interesting over the long haul. Admittedly, it's hard to argue with a career long haul of three decades. But for me, one concert's worth was sufficient.