By Don Heckman
The place was overflowing Tuesday night. But it wasn’t exactly the sort of music one usually hears at Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. The name alone says it. Everyday musical cuisine at Herb Alpert‘s elegant jazz bistro, nestled in the high hills of Bel Air, is world class jazz, some occasional cabaret, musical theatre and world music.
But this was something else. Six young guys lined up across the stage, without an instrument, singing a cappella. They hail from South Africa, and they call themselves Overtone. From a musical perspective, imagine a combination of Sha Na Na and Take 6, with some added traces of South African traditional sounds and rhythms.
If you saw Clint Eastwood’s 2009 film, Invictus, you’ve heard Overtone. Discovered by Eastwood’s wife, Dina, the group performs prominently on the picture’s sound track. But they are still a relatively unknown quantity as a live act. And, despite their first rate musicality and on stage enthusiasm, the pre-packaged quality of some of their numbers, as well as their between-songs patter, had the distinct quality of an ensemble still working to discover its identity.
That said, there were no arguments with the quality of the music. With bass Riaan Weyers and vocal beatboxer Valentino Ponsonby (Tino) laying down a solid foundation, most of the material – even the numerous unfamiliar selections, surged with propulsive energy. The four other singers – baritone Shane Smit, high tenor/soprano Eduard Leonard, tenor Ernie Bates and lead singer Emile Welman provided an impressively integrated ensemble sound, as well as atmospheric solo vocals. On a few selections, Bates on guitar and Welman on piano added colorful instrumental backing.
After kicking off the set with the Satins’ “In the Still of the Night,” they tore into “Great Balls of Fire,” shifting gears for “I Wanna Be Around,” adding some African material and focusing on their hit version of “Nothing Else Matters.” And there was much more, all of it thoroughly demonstrating the musical versatility of this talented vocal collective.
As noted above, the Overtone singers are still finding their way in some performance aspects. But there’s no doubt that their impressive musicality is pointing them toward a bright future.
Photo by Faith Frenz.