Music is a universal language. This may be a frequently-cited cliché, but no phrase better describes Perpetuum Jazzile, a gifted jazz and pop chorus hailing from Slovenia. In addition to performing traditional Slovenian folk songs, they reinterpret a dizzying array of artists, from George Benson to Toto to Antonio Carlos Jobim. With occasional instrumental accompaniment, the choir uses intricate, layered harmonies and vocal percussion to put a decidedly new spin on familiar songs.
Perpetuum Jazzile’s roots reach back to 1983, when they began as the Gaudeamus Chamber Choir. After gaining a solid reputation for their unique and complicated singing style, they released their first album as Perpetuum Jazzile, Ko boš prišla na Bled (When You Come to Bled), in 2000. Their repertoire grew after Slovenian music and producer Tomaž Kozlev?ar joined the group as musical director. An alum of the vocal gospel group New Swing Quartet, he first worked with the group on their debut album, then ascended to the musical director position in 2001. Subsequently they released two more CDs, Pozabi, da se ti mudi (Forget You’re in A Hurry) (2003) and ?udna no? (Strange Night) (2006). But Perpetuum Jazzile attracted attention outside Slovenia in 2009, when their incredible performance of Toto’s “Africa” reached YouTube viewers.
Two elements distinguish their version of “Africa” as special: one, the soaring harmonies, rich bass, and incredible percussion, created through vocalizing or imitating instruments and percussion vocally. Second, the introduction to the track is truly inspired—through snaps, handclaps, and stomping, the entire chorus recreates the sound of a thunderstorm. This remarkable performance landed Perpetuum Jazzile national attention, attracting more than 11 million views and even earning a mention on the Weather Channel! While the rainstorm recreation remains impressive, it’s their multi-layered vocals and Kozlev?ar’s complex arrangement that make “Africa” an astounding performance. Not surprisingly, their re-imagining of this 1980s classic is included on their 2009 album Africa.
Since then the choir has toured throughout the world, and has racked up honors in numerous choral competitions. Their success has also earned them American fans, so they will embark on their first American tour in Summer 2011. However, the group has undergone one major change: a new musical director. After a decade with Perpetuum Jazzile, Kozlev?ar left the chorus to pursue other opportunities. Their new musical director, however, brings impressive credentials. A founding member of the Swedish jazz vocal act The Real Group, Peder Karlsson lends his extensive knowledge in scatting and vocal jazz to the choir. In addition, Karlsson appointed featured vocalist Sandra Feketija to the assistant director position.
With the addition of Karlsson, Perpetuum Jazzile surely will continue developing their rich sound and ability to cover jazz, R&B, rock, world music, and pop. Just listen to their powerful yet delicate vocals on Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” or inciting the crowd to dance during their Earth, Wind, and Fire Medley. Stevie Wonder’s “As,” whose refrain seems tailor-made for a chorus, receives a joyous, percussion-filled makeover. Interestingly, the lead vocalists’ duet seems borrowed from George Michael and Mary J. Blige’s cover rather than Wonder’s original recording. Brazilian jazz fans will enjoy their gorgeous versions of “Mas Que Nada,” “Baroque Samba,” “So Danco Samba,” and “Aquarela Do Brasil”—all are particularly impressive due to the group’s effortless singing in Portuguese.
Included below is my favorite Perpetuum Jazzile number—their medley of George Benson favorites “Masquerade,” “Turn Your Love Around,” and “On Broadway.” Note the close harmonies and lead singer Nino Kozlev?ar’s scatting on the sultry “Masquerade;” clearly Kozlev?ar closely studied Benson’s scatting style, and nicely incorporates it in his performance. “Turn Your Love Around” showcases the group’s love of R&B, and it’s easy to forget that English is not Kozlev?ar’s native tongue, as his singing is almost flawless. Finally, the group finishes on a strong note with “On Broadway,” which they gradually turn into a rhythmic Latin number. Sašo Vrabi? shines in a featured solo, displaying his considerable vocal percussion skills.
Ideally Perpetuum Jazzile’s world tour, including America, will expose their intelligent, sophisticated yet joyful style to a wider audience. If they are appearing near you, make the effort to seek them out and experience their vocal prowess live. On their website, the group defines Perpetuum Jazzile as “vocal ecstasy.” Track down their albums and watch their YouTube videos, and you will be inclined to agree.