The six members of German a cappella group SLIXS have been honing their instruments together, that's to say their voices, for over a decade. Few vocal groups can match SLIXS' energy and musical charisma, or its masterly fusion of funk, pop, jazz and baroque idioms. SLIXS' unforgettable live shows brought them to the attention of Bobby McFerrin, with whom the band subsequently toured, and his influence is undoubtedly felt on Playgrounds. However, the nine original compositions, the lion's share composed and arranged by Michael Eiman, bear all the hallmarks of a unique group bursting with ideas.
Karsten Müller's 'bass' and Thomas Piontek's 'drums' lay a deep funk groove on the danceable opener, "Jam in the City," while a combination of Konrad Zeiner, Michael Eiman, Gregorio Hernández and Katharina Debus blast sharp 'horn' riffs, or else harmonize on lyrics that call for uninhibited celebration; 'Turn it loose and party like it's nineteen ninety nine" they cry, on what could almost be a tribute to the late Prince, a touchstone for the band, which has regularly included Prince tunes in it's live set.
Eiman's vocals and slick 'horn' arrangements color "Just You," an infectious, slow-grooving, McFerrin-inspired slice of soul-jazz. For a vocal group, SLIXS certainly conjure a plethora of 'instruments' with uncanny exactitude. Müller's 'slap bass' and Piontek's 'drum machine' beats underpin Hernández' lead vocal on "Come On," whereas Zeiner's 'didgeridoo' and urbane 'programing' effects kick-start the sophisticated, Eiman-led pop ballad "Is it the Rain."
Six vocal chords fuse in a sweet cacophony of jungle sounds on the intro to "Jasmine Flower." This stunning arrangement of a traditional Chinese tune brings together the ethereal sound of 'erhu' (Chinese two-stringed fiddle), contemporary beats, Zeiner's bowels-of-the-earth throat singing, and for good measure, intermittent bursts of heavenly baroque harmonies. The overall effect of what might appear to be—on paper at least—an ambitious melange, is totally charming.
"Hope out of Tins," with its zippy 'guitar'/low 'bass' funk lines and rich vocal harmonies, once again evokes the spirit of Prince, while "Heroes" pays homage to another recently deceased music icon—David Bowie. From hushed beginnings, with Eiman and Debus alternating the opening verses, 'drums' and 'bass' ignite the sextet's engine, the vocal chorus swelling magnificently in a emotive harmonic tribute of highly original design. A purely vocal take on William Shakespeare's sonnet "Shall I Compare Thee" features Debus and Hernández, though it's the magic of the sextet's lush harmonic waves that really seduces.
Debus' beguiling vocal is centre-stage on "That's When It's Love," which features Arno Brechman on additional vocal percussion; the pretty melody, embellished by Eiman's nuanced harmonic arrangements, gains real potency under Debus' steerage. It's the sort of tune that, were it sung by, say, Adele, would probably be a mega-hit. A layering of choral-cum-rhythmic vocal motifs and percussive accents buoy Debus and Eiman's scatting on the wordless "Junkfoe," a seductive piece of a cappella funk.
A joy from start to finish, these innovative, multi-layered compositions place SLIXS at the very forefront of popular vocal music. Eiman's splendid arrangements, playful and soulful in turn, are made to shine by the outstanding collective performances. Guaranteed to lift any gloom.
Track Listing: Jam in the City; Just You; Come On; Is it The Rain; Jasmine Flower; Hope out of Tins; Heroes; Shall I Compare Thee; That’s When It’s Love; Junkfoe
Personnel: Katharina Debus; Michael Eiman; Gregorio Hernández; Karsten Müller; Thomas Piontek; Konrad Zeiner; Arno Brechman (9).
Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Herzog Records | Style: Beyond Jazz