The à cappella outfit from Illinois dazzled the audience at the First Flight High School with an eclectic mix of music and musical styles, leavened by comedy and wit.
The musicians wasted no time in commencing the vocal fireworks, launching a jazzy uptempo version of Bob Thiele and George David Weiss’ “What a Wonderful World” with a lot of fast dot-dot-dada’s. Tenor Nathan Pufall sang the lead lyric, while Aaron Stonecipher, Chuck Bosworth, Brock Thornsbrough and Jarrett Johnson supplied the dot-da’s.
The arrangement was dynamic and supported by John Musick’s deep bass voice; through his microphone it had the weight of Dorothy Papadakos’ giant theater-organ from the previous Forum show. The overall sound was very full but detailed, thanks to arranger Mark Grizzard, who was working the mixing board from the back of the house.
Subsequent numbers added the sound of a drum-kit to the mix: Stonecipher or Bosworth would use their lips, tongues and teeth to make percussion sounds that included bass-drum beats, snares and cymbals. At first it sounded as if someone were playing drums offstage, but one singer would tend to drum his fingers on his side; then one could see he wasn’t singing in the traditional manner.
This was carried to new heights during their “Theme and Variations on ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing,'” in which they took the venerable Duke Ellington and Irving Mills classic through pop, jazz, rock, gospel, rhythm ‘n’ blues and classical styles – the rhythm ‘n’ blues variation featured a funk bass and drum sound that would have done James Brown proud. During the (soft) rock variation the lead rendered the lyric in a soupy James Taylor-ish vocal while the others sang soft guitar arpeggios. The tour de force, as advanced musically as anything that evening, previewed the wit that would be on display throughout the show.
They sang a few original numbers; the first, “There I Go,” was about the faith that united them and informed their lives (they were, first, choir singers); it was inspired by the saying “There but for the grace of God, go I.” Quiet and lovely, it featured a mighty hook in the refrain “There I go…”
Comedy returned with a song based on Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell’s 1956 “Fever,” called “Reverb,” about an anachronistic performance of that song, which suffered from too much of that echo sound effect. Their performance combined actual reverb from the mixing board with simulated vocal reverb from the singers and passages where a singer harmonized with his own delayed voice. As always, the comedy was supported by incredible virtuosity.
And the group shifted gears easily. Marvin Gaye’s genius was well-served with a sublime reading of his “Mercy, Mercy Me” in which Jarrett Johnson and the group absolutely glowed.
Eric Clapton’s “If I Could Change the World” was given a Stevie Wonder-ish reading that highlighted the lyricism of the guitar-god’s composition, with nary a guitar in sight.
A musical instrument was employed during the evening, though, with apologies. Mention was made of Chapter 6’s unseen member, arranger Mark Grizzard at the mixing board. “He sings, too,” the audience was told. “Would you like to hear him? Maybe you could encourage him, as he’s shy…”
This was interrupted by a lanky fellow running down the aisle at full speed toward the stage, a fellow who reminded one of nerdy Robert Hoover in the movie “Animal House.” He wore a sport jacket, crumpled chinos and untied running shoes. When Grizzard had gained the stage he strutted about and led the group in his own crazy composition, “The 7th Wheel,” about going unrecognized in a six-piece à cappella group.
When it was revealed he played the piano, too, the Forum’s Yamaha was dragged from the shadows and Grizzard led Chapter 6 through a fine 6-minute version of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Grizzard played an abbreviated version of the original piano part and Chapter 6 sang the orchestration.
After Grizzard went back to his mixing board the band covered the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and sang paeans to Folgers Coffee and Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and an acoustic (without microphones, “so you can see we’re not lip-synching”) hymn, Doris Akers’ “Sweet Sweet Spirit.”
The audience needed an encore, demonstrating it with a standing ovation. “We never play ovations – unless we’re asked,” said Musick, and the group sang a rousing “Jump, Jive and Wail.” They wailed, all right.
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