Variety Orchestra

Brian Woodbury

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Variety Orchestra Review

by Fran├žois Couture

Pushing the play button after slipping Brian Woodbury's disc into the CD player is like stepping inside Pee-Wee's Playhouse. You never know what to expect or what the next bar will bring; everything is disguised in outrageous ways; even the most familiar objects adopt a warped shape. The first few seconds of "Take the J Train" might suggest an avant-garde jazz big band, like a postmodern version of Duke Ellington's band, but soon the accordion comes in, then the banjo and the pedal steel, and you suddenly realize that you're not in Jazzland anymore. Woodbury seems to draw inspiration from everything within his vicinity: The Duke, Spike Jones, Charles Ives, John Zorn, Frank Zappa, traditional Mexican bands and Rock in Opposition. Every time a particular name comes to mind, a hitherto unheard element comes in, simply to contradict your impression. The music is often fast-paced, even frantic and exuberant. In the slower passages ("Mom," "Venice, Italy," the finale of "Threnody for Kennedy and Connally,"), the jazz leanings shine through, while the more complex sections immediately bring to mind Zappa's Grand Wazoo and Waka/Jawaka albums. Then again, try to compare Zappa to the mad Mexican polka of "Garbanzo Beans," or the flooring Caribbean-spiced rendition of "Shenandoah," a heartland American ballad. The cast of musicians is an impressive roll call of LA and NYC experimental sidemen (including Mark Feldman, Guy Klucevsek, and Frank London), but musicianship aside, what shines throughout the album is Woodbury's witty sense of humor and indubitable talent for writing intricate, whimsical music. Highly recommended if you believe that humor belongs in music.

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