Review: Scatpack

ANNA SHEINMAN enjoyed the show but would have appreciated some variety and a few smiles.

ADC theatre Apella Scatpack

Tuesday 2nd, 11.00 at The ADC Theatre. £4.

Ten technically sound Cambridge singers came together at the ADC last night to form jazz acapella group Scatpack. The turnout for an ADC lateshow was mediocre but not terrible. The songs were predictable but not poorly executed. The performance as a whole was, well, fine. Not bad. Shall I continue finding other ways to say it was average? Maybe later.

Scat, in and of itself, it great. For those who have no idea what it is, you’ve actually heard it before, you just don’t know it. It’s when jazz singers start singing nonsense words “SCAT-diddley-op-pop-doo-wop-wop-WAAH” to impersonate musical instruments. On paper this sounds ridiculous, but live (and often improvised) it’s free flowing, lyrical, musical, often funny. Imagine sexy, smoky jazz bars. Imagine 1920s in the deep south. Imagine Ella Fitzgerald. In fact, don’t imagine, listen to Ella Fitzgerald, Queen of Scat. It’s gorgeous. But it is hard. There are a lot of holes to fall into with Scat.

Hole number one: It’s easy not to be up to the demands on the voice that mimicking instruments provides. This group, inexplicably dressed in dishevelled, post-swap-esque black tie, were clearly proficient musicians (we would expect nothing less at Cambridge) and hit pretty much every note. And trust me, with the vocal acrobatics going on, there were a lot of them. Amanda Kay, self described ‘M.D.’ had a sweet, clear voice, and did some rather endearing patter (e.g. jokes about her Dad/Girton being far away) between songs. Amy Puttick, who went for the high notes of the trumpet had an impressive range, but was piercing at times, and a lot of her words were lost. Sadly the boys going for those double bass notes felt like a last minute addition, and were often drowned out by the girls.

Hole number two: It can get samey. It’s no secret: Scat is formulaic. I don’t study music, but an approximation goes something like this: you sing the song, you sing it and make it a bit Scatty, you then do a lot of Scat. The end. This happened, many times over in Tuesday night’s show. When the group split in two for a charming arrangement of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ I got excited. Was it going to take off? Were they going to move out of a semi-circle? Not really. There were a few good moments. A very funny pause in ‘Fever’. A bit more energy lifted ‘Decidedly Blue’. They got the blending of voices perfect in ‘Without a Song’. These were isolated moments of excellence in an evening of… competence.

Hole number three: It’s got to be sexy. With almost no choreography or lighting to break up a fairly standard set list, they could have got away with it, if they had been really, really sexy. The whole group should thank their lucky stars for slinky, seductive altos Argyro Nicolaou and Kome Gbinigie (I am SO sorry if I’ve spelt your names wrong!). The former is so captivating I had to remind myself to watch the others: she told a story with every movement. Yum. The latter had enough attitude and smiles to make up for the rest of them. Almost. It’s just a shame they saw so little of the limelight.

So the evening would have been fine. But then… OK. The two top sopranos are clearly in a lesbian relationship which (obviously) is fine. There were a few jokes in songs about one rejecting the other. If they had gone for it and made it clear that was what was going on, Cambridge is a liberal place, there wouldn’t have been a problem. But it was a bit half hearted, didn’t really fit in with the whole boys in dinner jackets, girls in dresses thing, and we were left a little confused. Then there was a little (unchoreographed) ‘subtle’ hand holding. Did they think we wouldn’t see? There are forty lights shining on them. So that’s a little embarrassing. But those two coming back on late for the curtain call?! That’s just unprofessional, regardless of gender. Take it seriously kids. And please, next time, smile.