On Tuesday, Arts Editor Riva Weinstein attended Uptown Vocal’s fall concert, S-UV-erstition, in Wein Lounge. She gives her thoughts below.
It’s apple cider season. Wien Lounge is cozy and faux-candlelit, and students mill around as we wait for the performance, pouring drinks and nabbing candy. Uptown Vocal mills around the piano in a cluster of tasteful burgundy and black. As they shuffle into a half-circle, Karinya Ghiara (CC ’19) welcomes us informally to Uptown Vocal’s fall concert. Brent Morden (CC ’19) hums a note, twelve singers take a breath, and they leap together into their first song: “Blue Skies.”
The group’s musicality is smooth and effortless. They embody easy listening without allowing the audience’s attention to flag. They glide from Irving Berlin to Stevie Wonder, as competent in their upbeat doo-wops as they are in their choral homophony. Morden’s skill as a music director really shines in songs like “Autumn Leaves” and “A Foggy Day (in London Town)”: the tonal shifts are exciting without being dissonant. The group is most impressive together in songs like “Basin Street Blues,” jumping right on tricky, syncopated rhythms and complex chords without an ounce of hesitation.
All of Uptown Vocal’s soloists were very competent, but most of them lacked the vocal oomph and physical charisma to make a jazz solo really interesting. That was fine for some of the simpler melodies like “Autumn Leaves”, but for the playful lyrics of songs like “Let’s Do It,” their stage presence fell flat. It wasn’t until Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” that I found myself paying more attention to the soloist than I was to the whole group’s harmony.
Uptown Vocal indeed saved the best for last. Karinya Ghiara shines in her solo for “Superstition,” capturing the crowd’s attention with her strong, jazzy voice and infectious smile. Jackie Brown’s (CC ’19) smoky tones rounded out the night handsomely with “A Foggy Day”: progressive and atmospheric, with one singer making a foghorn-like sound in the background, the character in Brown’s voice made it feel like the beginning of a musical. Even when they weren’t center stage, Ghiara and Brown consistently caught the audience’s eye, grooving and bouncing contagiously to the beat.
Although Uptown Vocal lacks the cultivated energy of other a capella groups, their bodies suit their music: casual and natural, happy without losing their aura of sophistication. On a weekday October night, with a class of cider in hand, their music was balm for the autumnal soul. We begged for an encore; but Ghiara simply laughed and told us to come to their winter concert for another taste of Uptown Vocal’s dulcet jazz.
Image via Uptown Vocal