Sometimes it happens: one finds a really good album by an artist
that's totally unknown to the listener, then one seems to lose all traces
of the artist... forever. This is what happened to me in the case of Brian Woodbury and his
album called Brian Woodbury And His Popular Music Group, released in 1992.
An album that featured really unusual songs, which sounded "modern"
and "classic" at the same time, aware of the past but absolutely
non-nostalgic, which wore their influences on their sleeves without sounding
imitative; quite ironic, too, but never recurring to pastiche. Five years
later, I was quite puzzled by Shenandoah/Innsbruck, the track which appeared
in Volume 4, Number 2 of the ReR Quarterly: though of high quality, the track
reminded me a lot of Van Dyke Parks - but not of the Brian Woodbury I knew.
Then, nothing. So it's a nice surprise hearing this album, Variety Orchestra
- while thanks to the Web, Brian Woodbury's life, CV and discography are not
a mystery anymore.
quite pleased I can say that Variety Orchestra is a very good album, full
of an intelligence that's quite accessible but that becomes apparent after
repeated listenings; a work that manages to sound new and fresh even if its
building blocks are known. A large line-up, an instrumentation that's not
that common (trumpets, percussions, basses, banjos, violins, saxophones and
accordions), a lot of styles, but played with a sentimental attitude that
never sounds "postmodern". The most familiar names for me were those
of Marc Feldman and Sarah Parkins (on violins) and of Guy Klucevsek (on accordion);
some of the musicians who are featured here had already played on the aforementioned
album - it was with much surprise that I saw that I am quite familiar with
their regular employers!
first track, Take The J Train, is a good example of the stylistic variety
of this album, a very ROVA-like baritone being followed by a lyrical air for
steel guitar. There's a beautiful (and - for this writer - original) mixture
of minimalistic propulsion and jazz moments in the next track, Mom. Muted
trumpets and mariachi atmospheres appear in Garbanzo Beans, while in Venice,
Italy one can breath a Latin air. Jesus Christ Alrighty sounds like greasy
R&B, with a tenor sax that's highly reminiscent of Gary Windo and a progression
(complete with organ) which reminded me of Carla Bley (whose name, along with
Oregon, Henry Threadgill and Fred Frith, is mentioned on the booklet cover
under "inspiration"). I'd hate to give the reader the impression
that this album sounds like a derivative work - if it's true that the rhythm
track and the "Balkanic" violin line in Long May She Wave are very
reminiscent of Fred Frith's Gravity, the following vibes are a touch that's
compositionally original. As brilliantly demonstrated on Threnody For Kennedy
And Connally, Woodbury is more than a very clever arranger - just listen to
the melody that appears at about 2'20", absolutely unexpected after all
that preceded it.
there is something "wrong" in this work, it's only its being too
intelligent for its own good given the current climates. In the last few years
some line-ups have managed to sell mixtures that were not too inspired. Woodbury
lives on a different plane. But for those who take the time to listen to this
album the only danger is that of discovering something that's highly valuable.
© Beppe Colli 2004
CloudsandClocks.net | May 26, 2004