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MUSIC REVIEW : Body and Soul by Jubilee Singers


It doesn't take strict concentration to appreciate the Albert McNeil Jubilee Singers. Bring them your tired, your dyspeptic, your uninterested and this group will know how to grab a few lapels.

At least that was the impression Wednesday at Ambassador Auditorium when the 24-year-old ensemble held forth in a program of classic spirituals, contemporary African and African-American gospel and folk songs and Black Theatre material, courtesy of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin.

So what is it that wows the crowd? Not massed voices perfectly blended and balanced and applied to multi-part singing. Not rousing gospels. Not magnificent soloists--although there certainly were no deficits in these departments.

The answer is showmanship. What the group boasts in excelsus is a body-and-soul delivery, no matter the musical category.

The Jubilee Singers dance and gesture and enact and physically dramatize. In the spirituals, all of them done a cappella, each soloist became an entertainer. Elsewhere, there was ensemble choreography. Always the manner was as important as the music and, in some cases, more so.

Among the highlights was "Hareje," a Zulu song that sounded close harmonies through wonderfully reedy voices. This, and "Tataleo," a number from Ghana, had choreography that suggested a boisterously good-natured, even humorous, community.

But the pop gospel numbers did not invariably match the quality one hears on the radio dial, even with the use of amplification. The individual voices also sometimes had difficulty negotiating the high notes improvised around the melodies.

Nor did all the Ellington and Gershwin make a stellar impact, although such numbers as "Take the A Train" and "Sophisticated Lady" came across more than respectably.

A standing ovation went, deservedly, to Muriel Bennett, who sang "My Man's Gone Now" from "Porgy and Bess." Her soprano, a fully operatic instrument of considerable size and beauty, needs only a little more control to qualify as an important voice.

Michael Smith, together with Victoria Burnett, also distinguished himself in "Bess, You Is My Woman Now." Byron J. Smith provided piano accompaniments and Albert McNeil directed most of the a cappella numbers.

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