Hooked Up Classics

Shawn Lee / Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra

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Hooked Up Classics Review

by Thom Jurek

Shawn Lee dons his Ping Pong Orchestra cap to pay tribute not so much to the orchestral classics of the classical canon, but more to the Hooked on Classics series of albums that were so popular in the early 1980s. On those records, Louis Clark of the Electric Light Orchestra arranged the most famous themes by the great composers, so as to be simpatico with a generation of listeners who were readily acquainted with classical music, but who were in the mood for something more contemporary. Clark used the popular production techniques of the day and fused them to disco beats. In the process, he created a kitschy craze. Lee's look at Clark takes his idea and stretches it very close to the breaking point, with requisite humor. His reading of the 1812 Overture is redubbed out -- Augustus Pablo meets Lee Perry -- with the main lyric theme played on a melodica. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy employs a subtle snare breakbeat, a Japanese koto, and electric guitars on the crescendos, adding a nice electronic fantasia for a cadenza. Ride of the Valkyries gets a full Deodato-esque treatment with deft, funky basslines added to orchestral harmonics. In further reference, Lee also gets his Ping Pong machine to put the Deodato freak on Also Sprach Zarathustra while actually checking the musical arrangement by Clark. The driving bassline and the popping hand- and kit-looped percussion overdrive the melody as layers of psych guitars and funky keys add a trace of Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" to the proceedings. Then there's the beach blanket bong-out surf workout of Maurice Ravel's Bolero. You get the idea. After his collaborations with vocalists on Sing a Song and Into the Wind -- an outing with Chinese classical guzheng player Bei Bei -- Hooked Up Classics is a pleasant return to Lee's love of library music and is at least as kitschy as the records he's paying tribute to.

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