Swingle Singers – Noëls sans Passeport 6.0

Reviewed by on 5th January, 2017

As a European Union national living in the United Kingdom, 2017 promises to be a year of changes. Whatever the effect for me personally – and I won’t deny that I’m feeling a distinct sense of trepidation here – the forthcoming triggering of Article 50 in March is going to shake up a lot of things, affecting both citizen and immigrant alike, with no-one really knowing what the future holds. But whatever the actual changes in laws, one thing that will inevitably shift is culture, the ideas and ways of being that permeate society. And the arts will inevitably shift along with them.

As for Christmas music, well, that as much as anything is a product of its time. Which makes the Swingle Singers’ 1968 album Noëls Sans Passeport all the more fascinating to listen to, as a product of an era where Europe was in the ascendant. The year before, Denmark, Ireland and The United Kingdom had started accesion talks to the EEC, and it must have seemed as if a pan-European world with no passports and intermingled traditions was a real possibility.

And so you’ve got this: traditional music from nine European countries (plus Argentina and the US thrown in for good measure), all mixed together in medleys, the connections dictated by music rather than nationality. Instead of words, there’s a well-proportioned, tonally pure vocal ensemble (of course!) performing the universal language of scatted syllables.

Like the European Union, it all can come accross as a bit mirthless and muddled sometimes, but the optimism is certainly there, and there’s an edge that saves it. In particular, the presence of avant-garde Jazz drumming genius Daniel Humair breaks through any semblance of easy-listening acapella. And suddenly, instead of soothing, it’s as if the universality prods us into action, a universality that we could perhaps use a little more of today.

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The Europhile's Guide to Christmas

In a time when the world looks like we'll never be Sans Passeports again, the optimism of an earlier time is a refreshing reminder of another possibility. It's also, truth to be told, a bit cloying, and the darkness that exists in the best Christmas recordings is simply not here. Perhaps it's a price worth paying.

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