SLIXS At Derry International Choral Festival 2016

Ian Patterson By

Sign in to view read count
Derry International Choral Festival
St. Columb's Hall
Derry, N. Ireland
October 20, 2016

In just four editions the City of Derry International Choral Festival has carved its place among the world's leading choral festivals, attracting the very best international choirs to the Walled City. A pleasing aspect of the CDICF, beyond the marquee names, has been its desire to think outside the box. Neil Cowley's collaborations with local choir Codetta and pan-European choir Utopia & Reality in the 2014 CODICF, for example, emphatically underlined the festival's progressive credentials—its desire to shake things up. For this edition, the surprise package in an impressive choral programme was German a cappella band SLIXS, whose refreshingly groove-centric blend of pop, jazz, funk, gospel and classically-influenced vocal art proved a huge hit with the audience in St.Columb's Hall.

Since All About Jazz last covered SLIXS, at the 2012 Borneo Jazz Festival, the six-piece vocal group has gone from strength to strength, playing at jazz, a cappella, choral and arts festivals the world over, pocketing a number of international awards and, in 2014, collaborating with Bobby McFerrin on a two-week European tour. This was SLIXS first visit to Ireland/Northern Ireland and the group pulled out all the stops during a riveting performance.

The concert perhaps marked a before and after in the group's trajectory, for with a new CD of original material due for imminent release, the road-polished interpretations of classic pop songs that accounted for the guts of its Derry set-list, will likely soon make way for fresh sounds.

The group's signature opening number "Slixs" signposted what was to come, with the remarkable rhythm team of Karsten Mueller and Thomas Piontek (bass and drums respectively)—the funkiest, most swinging vocal engine imaginable—underpinning Gregorio Hernandez, Michael Eiman, Konrad Zeiner and Sophie Grobler's rich harmonic tapestry. It was a sonic blend that owed a debt to Prince's musical DNA, so the inclusion of a gently beguiling version of the late artist's "Sometimes it Snows in April" and an irresistibly funky "Sign of the Times"—complete with guitar and horn evocations—wasn't entirely surprising.

After ten years together, SLIXS' pebble-smooth harmonies were accentuated by a slick, yet animated stage presence, the six vocalists moving in and out of each other's physical and sonic orbits like rotating cogs within a slow-turning wheel. Whilst the music and choreography went hand in glove, there was room for improvisation, particularly in the more charged, funk 'n' jazz-fuelled ensemble passages, where slide trombone and soaring trumpet sonorities enjoyed elbow room.

Twentieth century grooves were followed by the equally compelling rhythms of eighteenth century baroque music, with excerpts from SLIXS' Johanne Sebastian Bach homage Quer Bach (Raumklang, 2014) pitching Mueller (Bach's left hand) with Grubler (Bach's right hand) to mesmerizing effect. If Grubler, subbing for the unavailable Katarina Debus, was suffering from any nerves, she gave no sign, in what was an assured performance, notably on the hugely entertaining "Funkjoe" and a soulful "Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls," where her vocal improvisations soared within the tight, ensemble vocal arrangements.

Fun was central to almost everything SLIXS did, from Zeiner's French-sung "Du Bon Son" and the sextet's musical dialogues in an invented language to the evocative jungle polyphony of "Humanizoo" —a delight for students of articulatory phonetics and wildlife aficionados alike. By contrast, a soothing arrangement of William Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 ("Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer Day") worked subtler charms.

Al Jarreau's "Boogie Down" provided a particular highlight; the funky scatting and booty-shaking rhythms on stage inspired some wonderfully empathetic dancing by a young man, Rizal Brolly, from a local creative learning organization for youth and adults with intellectual disabilities, who for the duration of the song effectively became the seventh member of SLIXS. Following huge applause, Eiman said simply, "Something special." By curious coincidence, and unbeknown to Eiman, the name of the organisation is Something Special. It really couldn't have been scripted better.

A rousing interpretation of Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie" followed by a beautifully orchestrated call and response between the male and female audience members on the afore-mentioned "Humanizoo" finally got the rest of the audience on its dancing feet. For the encore, Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" provided a suitably up-beat finale.

Amongst contemporary a cappella groups SLIXS stands out, not only for its technical brilliance but for its infectious joie de vivre that makes every performance a party. Funky, sophisticated and uplifting, who could ask for any more from vocal music?


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Monterey Jazz Festival 2017 Live Reviews Monterey Jazz Festival 2017
by Josef Woodard
Published: September 25, 2017
Read Match&Fuse Dublin 2017 Live Reviews Match&Fuse Dublin 2017
by Ian Patterson
Published: September 24, 2017
Read Antonio Sanchez Group at Jazz Standard Live Reviews Antonio Sanchez Group at Jazz Standard
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 24, 2017
Read WOMAD 2017 Live Reviews WOMAD 2017
by Martin Longley
Published: September 21, 2017
Read Punkt Festival 2017 Live Reviews Punkt Festival 2017
by Henning Bolte
Published: September 17, 2017
Read Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium Live Reviews Gary Clark, Jr. and Jimmie Vaughan at the Iridium
by Mike Perciaccante
Published: September 16, 2017
Read "Dawn Clement Trio at Kitano" Live Reviews Dawn Clement Trio at Kitano
by Tyran Grillo
Published: August 14, 2017
Read "John Hart at The Turning Point Cafe" Live Reviews John Hart at The Turning Point Cafe
by David A. Orthmann
Published: May 2, 2017
Read "13th Annual Uppsala International Guitar Festival" Live Reviews 13th Annual Uppsala International Guitar Festival
by John Ephland
Published: October 23, 2016
Read "Joseph Leighton Trio at Jazzhole" Live Reviews Joseph Leighton Trio at Jazzhole
by Ian Patterson
Published: July 4, 2017
Read "Gilad Hekselman at the Cornelia Street Café" Live Reviews Gilad Hekselman at the Cornelia Street Café
by Tyran Grillo
Published: August 13, 2017
Read "Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie at Caffè Vivaldi" Live Reviews Hilary Gardner and Ehud Asherie at Caffè Vivaldi
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: October 4, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.