Roomful of Teeth | Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival | Classical | Chicago Reader
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Roomful of Teeth 

When: Sat., March 29, 8 p.m. 2014
Price: $10
I have a deep-seated wariness of contemporary a cappella singing, but Roomful of Teeth, an eight-member New York vocal group directed by Brad Wells, has turned me around—last year it released its self-titled debut on New Amsterdam, and the album blows me away every time I listen to it. Several of its pieces were written for Roomful of Teeth, mostly by young New York composers (William Brittelle, Judd Greenstein, Caleb Burhans) but also by Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, and they routinely collide radically different approaches with fearless gusto and astounding precision. On Greenstein’s “Montmartre,” throaty overtone singing intersects fleet, wordless melodies rich in elaborate counterpoint—it sounds like the Swingle Singers messing around with Gregorian chant, then getting bum-rushed by Huun-Huur-Tu—and the album as a whole puts pop, opera, international music, and several other vocal traditions on equal footing. On paper it might sound like a postmodern nightmare, all technical grandstanding and hollow eclecticism, but Roomful of Teeth has consistently silenced my skepticism with the beauty of its singing and the logical rigor, harmonic lushness, and melodic splendor of its repertoire. The heart of the album is the four-part Partita, composed by group member Caroline Shaw, who won a Pulitzer for it last year—all the more impressive because she was only 30 at the time. (She’s also a superb violinist, and plays in the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.) Its movements are scattered across the album, but each one demonstrates Roomful of Teeth’s genre-crossing mastery. —Peter Margasak


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