“A fresh and beautiful contemporary jazz repertoire”

Ela Portnoy is overwhelmed by The Oxford Gargoyles' a capella performance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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There is only one word I can use to describe the Oxford Gargoyles – lush. An a cappella ensemble that goes against the recent Pitch Perfect grain, they are a group of accomplished musicians who have refined their craft to create a fresh and beautiful contemporary jazz repertoire. Relax in your seat and let them serenade you with a wash of first-class musical arrangements.

This ensemble gives a masterclass in blending. There is plenty of individual talent capable of shining when featured in a solo or a smaller section of the arrangement, but they’re also an ensemble in the true sense of the word, and each performer demonstrates an awareness of the group’s sound as a whole. They might be jazz musicians but they still channel the a cappella vibe – catching each other’s eyes, engaging in group choreography and generally looking like they’re having a great time performing together.

The talent of these performers lies not only in the show, but also in the arrangements. The parts are weaved together intricately and subtly, using motifs and solo features with style and dexterity. The textures are complex in a way that’s much more reminiscent of church music than of modern a cappella ensembles. You find yourself hearing lines being developed in new and surprising ways, sung in different voices and in different combinations.

The weakness of this group, if I can call it a weakness, is in the choreography, which although effective, is not as elaborate as that of many a cappella groups. But this is precisely part of the Gargoyles’ charm. Their show focuses on the music rather than the staging. The choreography is purposefully simple so it doesn’t detract from the ensemble’s forte, and this, for me, has exactly the right effect. It is much pleasanter to enjoy the textures and the subtleties of the music without too much visual distraction.

Stand-out solos came from Nell Norman, Barnaby Wynter, Tegan Eldridge, Olivia Hugh-Jones, Alex Butt, Francesca Amewudah-Rivers and Caleb Bester. The beauty of all the performers in this ensemble lies in their absolute control over their voices; they have an incredible ability to manipulate each line to bring out different flavours, and every performer’s interpretation is well developed with a different individual style. While I found the more traditional Frank Sinatra-style pieces a little dated in comparison with the more original arrangements, this is just a matter of taste, and didn’t detract from the overall gorgeousness of the ensemble’s performance.

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The Oxford Gargoyles have carved out a niche of a cappella with crystalline flair. 5 stars.