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Variety Orchestra by Brian Woodbury

Brian Woodbury’s release entitled "Variety Orchestra" is a like a traveling medicine show of tonics and herbal remedies, dried road kill, and anything else he can find along the way and stuffed into a bottle called jazz orchestra. There is simply no logical label to assign this stuff. The music is exuberant, effusive, and extremely eclectic. It’s also a joy to hear where Woodbury and his band decide to take you. It comes off as whimsical bordering on off-hand, but the arrangements are tight as if they were always meant to sound like this.

A few examples: ‘Take the J Train’ sounds, obviously, Ellington at the beginning streaming down through a subterranean passage and emerging in Harlem, but then the violin, pedal steel and banjo kick in, and the urban landscape has suddenly changes to somewhere in Appalachian mountains, and then the music gracefully fuses into the two where saxophones are at home with good time music. It is an exhilarating ride.

‘Garbanzos’ does its best as a Mariachi-inspired rag, while ‘Venice, Italy’ begins with the a nostalgic accordion tentatively tuning up at dawn in the Dorsoduro. It then morphs into something that sounds like Henry Mancini might have written in the 1960s with Inspector Clouseau pompously running around in circles. And tripping.

‘Threnody for Kennedy and Connally’ is an inspired piece of hilarity or is it? It starts as a Burlesque romp in which you can almost see the tassels going awhirl. But like the other pieces, it changes dramatically from bebop piano to balladic interlude and then to a Andrew Sisters-like chorus out of nowhere starts joyfully singing "Happy birthday to Kennedy with a tip of the hat to Mr. Connally" with a somber, uncertain ending. It is the juxtaposition of musical styles and moods that makes this music very compelling. One hopes the medicine show will come to town soon and play their own brand on subversive and entertaining music.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Brian Woodbury
  • CD Title: Variety Orchestra
  • Genre: Free Jazz / Avante Garde
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Some Phil Music
  • Tracks: Take the J Train, Mom, Garbanzo Beans, Venice Italy, Jesus Christ Alrighty, Long May She Wave, Threnody for Kennedy and Connally, Shenandoah/Innsbruck
  • Musicians: Nick Arionado, Guy Klucevek, Tom Massucci (accordion); Oren Bloedow, Conrad Korsch, Sue Williams (acoustic and electric bass); Marty Cutler (banjo), Marc Muller (pedal steel/guitar and banjo); Jonathan Feinberg (drums and percussion), Dan Morris (drums); Kory Grossman, Kristina Kanders, Bill Ruyle (percussion); Peter Lurye, Elma Mayer, David Witham (piano); Will Connel, Steve Elson, Aaron Heick, Kurt Hoffman (saxophones/reeds); Dan Levine (trombone); Frank London, Jim O’Conner (trumpet, Fluglehorn); Michael Webster (vibes); Marc Feldman, Dana Friedli, Sarah Parkins (violin); Stephanie Courtney, Deb Hiett, Elma Mayer, Dudley Saunders (vocal)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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