Jazzmanix have been seducing the eardrums of Southampton for 20 years, president Esther Boulton informed us at the beginning of the concert, finally resolving the question that’s been on everyone’s lips, why on earth is a pop and gospel choir called Jazzmanix? Apparently originating as a jazz group 20 years ago, as music tastes have evolved so has their style of music.
Such a welcome sums up the nature of the evening at Southampton University’s Jazzmanix Winter Concert, where Assistant Musical Directors poked fun at their own names in the titles of their small groups, such as Greg White’s ‘Egg White and the Yolks’. People are very committed to this society, as demonstrated by the loud cheer from alumni who’d been invited back to support and celebrate Jazzmanix’s 20th anniversary. It’s not just students and alumni however who get involved, but locals showed their commitment to the university, or simply a love of good music, which Jazzmanix delivered in abundance, as the Turner Sims Concert Hall was comfortably filled for the first of the two night run.
As per usual the first half of the concert was dedicated to the acapella groups with songs ranging from those featured in Avenue Q and Toy Story, to 80s and 90s medleys where every song blended seamlessly and hit you with nostalgia as you tried to work out what it was before they reached the chorus. The groups ranged from quartets to an 11-piece mini choir, each bringing their unique style and really demonstrating the vocal range and direction of the talented singers and directors. ‘Swinging It’ brought a jazzy vibe harking back to Jazzmanix’s origins, while ‘Eclecta’ introduced the festive spirit at the end of the first half, singing ‘Mary Did You Know’, released by Pentatonix last year, which was impressively well covered by this all female group. In their second piece, Fleet Foxes’ White Winter Hymnal – which saw the girls seated – showcased their perfectly synchronised clapped rhythms that could easily rival “that cup song” from Pitch Perfect.
After the interval the volume was cranked up, as the whole choir emerged from behind the audience, running down to the stage for ‘Kids’ by Robbie Williams, warming the audience up for the high-energy performances of the second half, as they rocked out to this classic. They were accompanied by the very talented eight-piece band of fellow students, who both raised the roof and complemented the singers without washing them out, more than once they had the audience clapping along and involuntarily tapping and bobbing from their infectious energy. The variety of songs and voices were manifest, from the climactic musical number ‘Spread the Love’ from Sister Act, to a Disney homage in Hercules’ ‘A Star is Born’, in which soloist Kenni Alli shone, managing to fit in all the words of this fast paced and lively song. They showed off their gospel talents in ‘Glorious’, a big piece with acapella verses and instrumental sections in which you could tell they were enjoying themselves as they grooved to the music. This was followed up by the mellow but powerful ‘Why We Sing’. They weren’t all upbeat, however, as they sang pop favourite ‘I Won’t Give Up’, giving it a fuller gospel sound, yet the solely guitar-based accompaniment, besides a twinkly keyboard bridge, kept it pensive. Slightly differing from their pop and gospel stance, they performed ‘Creep’ by Radiohead – the rock band’s debut single, infamous for Thom Yorke’s stark vocals – this was however one of the highlights of the whole concert for me. It’s arrangement managed to give the song an even more eerie nature, the isolation of certain lines, sung by separate vocal ranges, gave them a new poignancy, such as “I don’t care if it hurts”. There was no jazzy dancing here as the group stared intensely under the red lighting, sending shivers down my spine, pausing in the song to whisper “I wish I was special”. Finishing on a festive note the choir pulled out fake candles from their pockets, and the lights were dimmed for ‘That’s Christmas to Me’, a charming song with blending pitches. As certain verses were isolated, the other sections of the choir provided the accompaniment for this acapella song.
The concert beautifully summed up the talent of Musical Directors Jonathan Sandman and Becky Griffin and the hard work and ability of everyone involved. There was something for everyone from the spine-tingling soaring vocals of the acapella groups, to the dance-along classic and modern pop songs, musical numbers, jazzy gospel pieces, and mellow and brooding rock ballads tied up with a couple of festive treats for good measure. Now in their 20th year, this promises to be a busy one for Jazzmanix, so there will be plenty more chances to catch this gifted choir in action. Not only are they serving the university campus of friends, family and a few locals, but they’re getting out into the community by performing in John Lewis on the 9th December, so be sure to pop down then for a spot of tuneful Christmas shopping.