The Idea of North defies categorisation. As a quartet of musicians, their voices are their instruments: soprano, alto, tenor and bass, with a bit of vocal percussion thrown in. Their sound and style is distinct, yet they cross many musical genres: jazz, pop, folk, gospel, even comedy.
Members: Trish Delaney-Brown, Naomi Crellin, Nick Begbie, Andrew Piper
Idea of North: Extraordinary Tale
"Extraordinary Tale" is a marvelously packaged CD that underscores why we love CDs over downloaded mp3s or such. The jewel case folds out to 6 panels, which are all decorated with moody, lowbrow children's book illustrations of mechanical birds, patchwork metal whales, and the group as children in a red-striped boat on a curly-cued sea. Inside a slot is a folded treasure map, where we see an old victrola, spouting fishes, the mechanical birds are singing, and the whale spouts a microphone-a metaphor on the group's experience as the top a cappella group in Australia, perhaps? The different islands on the map have the names of the 13 songs on them, plus the running times. On the flipside of that are the names of the singers, Sally, Naomi, Nick and Andrew, plus the welcome disclaimer: "This is an a cappella recording. All the sounds on this album were produced by the voices and/or bodies of the ION." For those not familiar with mixed Vocal Jazz quartet ION, they blew in from Down Under and won the 2003 Harmony Sweeps, and we joined everyone in the sold-out audience in becoming their fans for life. Our favorites among the 13 cuts? Their bluesy, scattish take on Chick Corea's "Armando's Rhumba," an understated, deliciously melodic, jazzy hit on the Swing tune "Don't Wait Too Long," a heartbreakingly fine soprano lead and background harmonics on Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," Sting's "La Belle Dame Sans Regrets" riffs into an unbelievable lovely scat tapestry; Lennon and McCartney's "In My Life" fits perfectly into the poignant mood. Group member Andrew Piper gives us a rare, wonderful original, "One Minute More," Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing" has a vocal muted trumpet and a vocal percussion solo that you should hear; Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Love Her So," Stevie Wonder's "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer," Sinead O'Connor's "In This Heart," Aretha Franklin's "Since You've Been Gone" and Peter Allen's "I Still Call Australia Home" are all amazing but this review has gotten absurdly long. Treat yourself to "Extraordinary Tale," and thank us later!
Idea of North: This Christmas
We will never forget the way these two men and two women from Australia, members of Vocal Jazz group The Idea of North, whose reputation as the best a cappella group in Australia preceded them, strode onto the stage of the 2003 Harmony Sweeps National Finals in San Rafael. They would be the very last to perform a 12-minute set, and the regional winners from around the country, many of whom had performed to standing ovations by the sold-out audience, had set the bar incredibly high. But their first sweet notes were a revelation, and after ION's own roaring standing O, it was obvious to all who the audience favorite and National Champions were. There are 12 tunes here, some of our favorites are a bluesy, finger-popping take on "The Christmas Song," "Christmas Medley," which blends "Once in Royal David's City," "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" with innovative arrangements; a gentle lullaby new to our ears, "The Silver Stars are In the Sky" touched and moved us; "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, a big-band accompanied celebration; two Salsa band-accompanied versions of "Mary's Boy Child," one featuring James Morrison, and a pair of lovely, soaring, orchestra-accompanied songs, "Candlelight Carol" and "A Child is Born." The Pop-flavored title tune is also new to us, a joyous, Jazz band-accompanied greeting to the season. The a cappella "Angel" with its powerful "in the arms of the angel" chorus underscores the probable meanness of the nativity. We hold The Idea of North in a special place in our hearts and relate to "This Christmas" as a gift from this extraordinary quartet!
Idea Of North: The Early Years
A four piece mixed group from Australia, "The Idea of North" has compiled an eclectic mix of songs, performed and arranged in an accessible contemporary jazz style. About half are accompanied; the melody line on "My Funny Valentine" is played by a flugelhorn, and there is bass and percussion on several other songs (bassist Duncan Brown plays in the snappin' and poppin' style of the "Seinfeld" theme). "The 23rd Psalm" (arranged by McFerrin) and "Irish Blessing" reveals a traditional side, and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" has a gospel inflection and ragtime vocal horn solo. James Taylor's "Shed a Little Light" and "That Lonesome Road" are included, as is Harry Connick's "Trouble." This is a "crossover" record: it could qualify in either the contemporary or jazz categories. The second CD.has guest artists, James Morrison on Trombone on "Mas Que Nada," and "Fragile," the only two very lightly accompanied songs. This is an impressive, confident CD, reminiscent of the Real Group, and all the tunes are so beautifully arranged, selected and performed, it's hard to pick favorites - so we just sat back and enjoyed the sweet jazzy ride. The full color, beautifully photographed liner notes are a perfect complement to the music. Recommended!
Idea of North: A Cappella Arrangements
Winners of the Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals the Australian quartet The Idea of North is one of the most highly regarded vocal jazz groups performing today. "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" is an old gospel song arranged in a swing, trad jazz style and features each performer with solo sections. It has quasi instrumental parts to sing including trumpet, trombone and even banjos! Originally inspired from the movie sound track, "White Men Can't Jump" this fun arrangement is sure to leave your audience wanting more. "Amazing Grace" and "Sweet Sweet Spirit" retain their gospel meaning and flavor while given the wonderful vocal jazz treatment from the talented arranger Andrew Piper. These arrangements are all highly recommended!