For Their 2nd Album, A Cappella Jazz Sextet ACCENT, An Internet Phenomenon, Try Something New: Recording Together in the Same Zip Code
Six “Jazz Vocal Nerds” From Five Countries, They Met Online
On IN THIS TOGETHER (March 2018)
They Bring Stunning Jazz Harmonies to a Diverse Set of Originals
They are, arguably, the most spectacular jazz vocal group since TAKE 6. But when the six young men of ACCENT first performed live, at an international choral festival in Umeå, Sweden in 2014, they were taking a big gamble. They knew each other – sort of – but only online. They met and began to harmonize only five days before show time. Happily, they clicked musically and personally from the first rehearsal, and their performance at the festival was a smash.
They have since released two albums, amassed millions of views on YouTube, and performed live in concert halls, jazz clubs and festivals in the U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany and Mexico.
IN THIS TOGETHER, the group’s second album, represents a milestone in the way Accent works: It’s the first time they have actually recorded together in the same studio, after several years of collaborating remotely on vocal arrangements, YouTube videos, and their first album. Coming together in Los Angeles for two weeks in July 2016, they lived and worked side by side in the same house in a creative marathon of rehearsing and recording. On the resulting album, they sing dazzling arrangements of original songs, never losing the melody, even as they effortlessly execute seemingly impossible chordal shifts.
In addition to their tens of thousands of fans on YouTube, reaction from other vocal jazz icons, including some of their heroes, has been enthusiastic, bordering on ecstatic. Cedric Dent of TAKE 6, the group with perhaps the biggest influence on Accent said, “These guys are exceptional musicians… they have a signature sound that is sure to delight audiences for years to come.” Alan Paul of The Manhattan Transfer said, “You guys carry on the vocal group legacy.” And Clark Burroughs, lead singer of the legendary Hi-Lo’s, said “I hate you guys with all my heart… in the best possible way!”
With IN THIS TOGETHER, they have far surpassed the usual a cappella group fare of pop covers with a program of originals that displays their peerless blend and fearless jazz harmonies. But this is no mere display of technical acumen: their impeccable skills are all in the service of accessible, memorable melodies and passionate lyrics. In addition to three songs by members James, Simon and JB, the album includes a brilliant, previously unrecorded song written by TAKE 6’s Mervyn Warren and Mark Kibble as well as contributions by Michael Jackson-collaborator Siedah Garrett and Denmark-based jazz vocalist/bassist Kristin Korb.
As Andrew says, “These are songs that people have never heard before. Nobody’s going to be saying, ‘Oh, this is the a cappella version of this song.’ No. This is the original version.”
He explains the difference between Accent and other a cappella groups this way: “For us it’s all about the arrangement. We are one of the only younger groups that really carries on the tradition of vocal jazz harmony of groups like The Hi-Lo’s and The Manhattan Transfer. None of us are vocal divas.” Evan amplifies the point: “Every member of the group plays piano,” he says. “We were instrumentalists first. That has a direct, positive impact on the way we perform.”
The new album was “a labor of love,” says baritone and arranger James. “It represents all of our musical interests and tastes, incorporating pop and electronica, jazz, R&B, and even progressive-rock.”
The album begins with a gorgeous, wordless meditative prelude, “Aux Aurores (At Dawn)” written and arranged by JB. “Just Wondering,” composed and arranged by James, is a catchy contemporary pop song with electronic touches and constantly surprising jazz harmonies. The R&B-inflected “Love Is Just That Way,” composed but never recorded by original Take 6 members Mervyn Warren and Mark Kibble, gave JB, the arranger, a chance to re-imagine the original demo of the song and run wild with jazz vocal harmonies.
“Twilight,” a melancholy ballad beautifully arranged by Andrew, with the haunting lyric, “Dreams of love that will never be… Twilight over me,” was written by the Denmark-based jazz vocalist/bassist Kristin Korb and Danish pianist Magnus Hjorth. “Who You Are,” composed and arranged by Simon with lyrics by Evan, echoes the kind of symphonic progressive rock that Simon performs with his hit Swedish prog-rock group Moon Safari. The album’s closer, the upbeat “Only One Love,” was co-written by Ian Prince and L.A. tunesmith Siedah Garrett, who wrote with Michael Jackson; it features a spectacular vocal arrangement by Simon. Lyrically, the song suggests an answer to social problems like hunger and homelessness; “We all need each other, don’t you see… If you look beyond yourself you’ll find one love, one understanding…”
The songs are produced with a seamless blend of jazz and pop that goes far beyond the catchy, but simple, harmonies of other a cappella groups. Says James: “We think that Accent can bring a contemporary and international vibe to vocal jazz, somewhat like what Snarky Puppy brings to instrumental jazz. We’re essentially like a Hi-Lo’s project done by an international group of young, hip singer/musicians.”
It’s all done with a kind of sleight of hand that hides the complexity. As Simon says, “We take a pop approach, but with jazz harmonies. But that’s a good thing for reaching out to a wider audience. Sometimes it’s like, ‘Haha – we sang a 13th with a flat 9th and you still liked it!’”
1. Aux Aurores (Jean-Baptiste Craipeau)
2. Just Wondering (James Rose)
3. Love Is Just That Way (Mervyn Warren and Mark Kibble)
4. Twilight (Kristin Korb and Magnus Hjorth / lyrics by Kristin Korb)
5. Who You Are (Simon Åkesson / lyrics by Evan Sanders)
6. Only One Love (Ian Prince / lyrics by Siedah Garrett)
Jean-Baptiste (“JB”) Craipeau (France), tenor 1
Simon Åkesson (Sweden), tenor 2
Danny Fong (Canada), tenor 3
Andrew Kesler (Canada), tenor 4
James Rose (United Kingdom), baritone
Evan Sanders (USA), bass