At the Triple Door: Sweet Honey, sweet harmony | Concert review
Sweet Honey in the Rock brings seamless harmonies and holiday joy in the group’s 2012 Seattle show.
Seattle Times arts critic
Sweet Honey in the Rock
7 and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $30-$45. (206-838-4333 or www.tripledoor.com).
Sweet Honey in the Rock began their set at the Triple Door by summoning ancestral spirits with a whoosh, an exhalation, an exultation.
The song was “Breaths.” And for nearly 40 years, this unique a capella vocal ensemble has seamlessly blended voice and breath to transport listeners with universal songs and chants from deep in the African-American (and African) tradition. Tradition, improvisation, political expression — that’s the Sweet Honey tonic for what ails the world.
It has been a while since Sweet Honey played Seattle. And their current gig (which ends with two shows on Wednesday night) is probably way too brief to satisfy their many fans in the area.
The group used to perform at the Paramount Theatre and Benaroya Hall, to larger crowds. The advantage of the Triple Door nightclub, if you can score a ticket to hear them, is its intimacy.
In that respect, Tuesday’s opening show was a gratifying close encounter with the five-woman singing group (plus their graceful sign language interpreter), all warmly welcoming and in fine voice.
One is always struck by the magical way the Sweet Honey voices meld and ricochet, and by the variety of vocal and rhythmic textures, moods and messages their music conjures.
Sweet Honey founder Bernice Johnson Reagon has retired from the ensemble, but her essence was represented in the exquisite melody and transporting harmonies of “I Remember,” her tribute to the strength of forbears.
Civil rights anthems and black spirituals from the group’s capacious repertoire included the rousing “Do What the Spirit Say Do,” Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” (with extended vocal jam) and the stirring “Somebody Prayed for Me.”
There was also a song from Mali, a heartfelt prayer for the well-being of children around the world.
And there were holiday songs — a version of “Wasn’t That a Mighty Day?” which began with Ysaye Barnwell’s sturdy bass line and added in ascending layers of harmony from compatriots Aisha Kahlil, Carol Maillard, Louise Robinson and Nitanju Casel.
When invited to join in singing the 10 verses of the ebullient black spiritual “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” who could resist? It was another present from Sweet Honey, a national treasure.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org