Pieces of 8
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Pieces of 8

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Music

The best kept secret in music

Press


"Octet adds holiday zest"

By BRUCE CARR
Register Staff Writer
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As if Fire in the Sky wasn't already spectacular enough, there was Pieces of 8 at the Civic Center right afterward, adding more kick to last Friday night's holiday-season kickoff.

A voices-only jazz octet, part of the Civic Music series, Pieces of 8 delighted the crowd in a close-harmony show that celebrated classic American popular tunes and seasonal songs with high-flying energy and style to burn.

Informal dress, minimal lighting and simple choreography set off the eight distinctive voices, which performed a wide variety of styles - pop, rock, folk, classical, reggae, soul, doo-wop. The voices were blended into a powerful unity by the fascinating arrangements of Charles Mead, the St. Louis-based ensemble's founder.

One of Mead's favorite creative methods is to bring together a pair (or more) of songs, quick-cutting from one phrase or riff into the next, making the separate shards resonate off each other. It's a kind of musical Cubism that results in continual surprise, as in the ensemble's "Silver Bells/Carol of the Bells/I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day/Do You Hear What I Hear." Just as much fun were "Let it Snow/Heat Wave," "Kansas City/Route 66," and "Sleigh Ride/Jingle Bells."

Pieces of 8 is not all just glitz and glamour. One of their highlights was Mead's folk-style story-song for children, "The Gingerbread Boy," complete with a lighthearted moral about the importance of knowing who your real friends are. Another was the impressive Prayer for Peace ("Sim Shalom"), which built from a simple, one-voice Sephardic chant to a powerfully irresistible momentum worthy of the Weavers.

Pieces of 8 has a fabulous bass who provides a stunningly inventive repertory of vamps, twangs, boom-shabooms and other string-bass noises to keep the rhythm going. But each of the seven other singers could match his percussive variety, as they did in the second-half opener, a country-Cajun hoedown sung in Creole French.

Mead arranged a wonderful near-Eastern variation of "We Three Kings"; a show-stopping "Twelve Days of Christmas"; and a "Rocking' Robin/Birdland" that dared - and passed - comparison with the Manhattan Transfer. The group also mastered a quiet perfection of Cole Porter's classic "I Concentrate on You."

After a no-holds-barred finale of "Here Comes Santa Claus," the ensemble gave a supremely elegant performance of the "Christmas Song" (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire). Mel Torme and the Meltones would have been very pleased.
- Des Moines Register


"Misc quotes"

“Combines rich vocal harmonies…elements of jazz, doo-wop, gospel and Cajun music.”… New York Times

“They are a national treasure!”…Kansas City Star

“Impressively virtuosic…tight and sophisticated.”…St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Best entertainment we have ever had! Pieces of 8 was outstanding.”…American Choral Directors Association

“Performed brilliantly ... a masterful, harmonious performance.”…The Collegian, Fayette, MO

“Striking originality.”…The Riverfront Times, St. Louis, MO

“The works presented were polished, dynamic, and the flawless concert left no doubt that the wide variety of music styles presented was in the hands of masters.”… Grand Opera House, Oshkosh, WI

“The group added zest, an air of excitement, and a refreshing change of pace ... What a powerhouse of talent! What a rousing response from the audience!.”…Southwestern Bell

“This act is as good as any I have ever seen. I fully expect them to have a Grammy in the next five years. Really, they’re that good.”… New Salem Chautauqua Series, Petersburg, IL

“Too few children have the opportunity to experience the range and possibility of the human voice that Pieces of 8 is providing to thousands of children in the St. Louis area.”…Young Audiences of St. Louis

“Exceptional musical arrangement ... humorous and polished performance ... a new and contemporary twist to storytelling.”…The Chieftain, Pueblo, CO

“To say you wowed the crowd would be an understatement.”…The Haven of Grace

“The audience was absolutely enthralled.”…Bowlus Fine Arts Center, Iola, KS

“With 8 you get ecstasy.”…Illinois Times Out - Various


Discography

Peace to All of You (CD)
The Gingerbread Man (book and cassette)
Hook, Line & Sinker (CD) (CARA nominee)
Falling Together (CD) (CARA nominee)
Across the Blue Meridian (CD) (double CARA nominee)
Our recordings are available on iTunes and in stores nationwide.

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Pieces of 8 was founded in 1992 in St. Louis by Charles Mead, who writes or arranges all the group's music. In 2001 the group, now represented by Arts Management Group, relocated to New York. Last fall the group released its fourth recording, Across the Blue Meridian, on Town Crier Records.

Pieces of 8 tours nationwide, concertizing for adults as well as for children and teenagers. Its performances have taken the ensemble to universities and performing arts centers in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, and California.