Vicious World: Vicious World Plays The Music of Rufus Wainwright (2011)
Rufus Wainwright is one of those musicians whose work straddles several different musical genrespop, rock, Broadway, and folk music all figure prominently into his oeuvre. While not a jazz artist by any stretch, Wainwright's music is certainly sophisticated and multilayered enough to withstand instrumental reinvention by modern jazz artists. Even without vocals, Wainwright's artistry literally thrives in the hands of trombonist Matthew McDonald and saxophonist Aaron Irwin who, as co-leaders of Vicious World (the name of the group is, in fact, the title of one of Wainwright's songs), have literally rearranged and re-imagined his music in a 21st Century jazz context. Some of their adaptations take Wainwright's music out as far as it can go, while other tunes receive a homey, more humble treatment. Somehow, the duo never strays too far from Wainwright's original intent. The results are refreshing, even breathtaking at times.
The most arresting thing about Vicious World Plays The Music of Rufus Wainwright are Irwin's and McDonald's arrangements. The band consists of the two horns, plus guitar, bass, drums, violin and cello, but sounds so much bigger. The stringsviolinist Eliza Cho and cellist Maria Jeffersimpart both delicacy and spaciousness to the music, and help convey the sort of intimacy that Wainwright's songs demand. Reminiscent of use of strings on Arthur Blythe's Basic Blythe (Columbia, 1988), McDonald and Irwin completely integrate the cello and violin into the band sound.
The arrangements also allow for considerable musical variety, from the understated pastoral balladry of "Memphis Skyline," to the darkly humorous tango pastiche of "Matinee Idol," to the hard-edged, jagged rock of "This Love Affair." McDonald and Irwin trade leads, harmonize, play counter melodies, and continually dance around each other. As improvisers, they tend to favor intricate, flowing lines and a lyrical approach.
Drummer Danny Fischer, guitarist Sebastian Noelle, and bassist Thomas Kneeland are adaptable, big-eared sidemen who exhibit uncommon depth and taste throughout the recording. Noelle shines particularly brightly on "Memphis Skyline," and "The Art Teacher," the latter benefiting greatly from his snarling opening salvo and expressive soloing.
Finally, where Vicious World Plays The Music of Rufus Wainwright really succeeds is how well it puts across Wainwright's elegant music to a listening audience that may well know little or nothing about the singer/songwriter. It's almost certain, however, that many will want to check out Wainwright's music after hearing this CD.
Track Listing: Going to Town; Natasha; This Love Affair; Memphis Skyline; Leaving For Paris; Matinee Idol; Peach Trees; Millbrook; The Art Teacher; In a Graveyard; Dinner at Eight.
Personnel: Aaron Irwin: saxophones, clarinet, flute; Matthew McDonald: trombone; Sebastian Noelle: guitars; Thomson Kneeland: bass; Danny Fischer: drums; Eliza Cho: violin; Maria Jeffers: cello.
Record Label: Spinaround Records