Wave Mechanics Union: Further To Fly (2012)
Rock music has been mined to the nth degree by jazz prospectors. Trumpeter Miles Davis was doing Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper a quarter century back; pianist Brad Mehldau has made Radiohead his own; jazz legend Herbie Hancock spoke of new standards by Peter Gabriel and Nirvana; and organ guru Dr. Lonnie Smith has delivered a whole platter of pleasing Beck songs. All of this might lead to the assumption that every rock vein has been stripped clean, but with Further to Fly, Wave Mechanics Union mines one or two that still contain precious ore.
This 30-piece unit, put together by a group of arrangers who wanted to write for themselves for a change, was born in 2004 under a progressive rock-turned-jazz banner. As time went by, the group continued to work in this arena, but evolved and expanded its repertoire to include music from other rock genres and sub-genres. Wave Mechanics Union's debut, Second Season (HXmusic, 2008), still spoke of progressive interests, with King Crimson, Yes, and Rush songs making the cut, but also included some classic rock fan favorites like The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" and The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." Further To Fly goes even further afield.
For its sophomore album, Wave Mechanics Union decided to keep some favorites like King Crimson and Yes in the mix, but puts a greater emphasis on '80s and '90s entries of all stripes and colors. The album touches on jazz friendly songwriters like Ben Folds, Paul Simon and Tom Waits, as well as art-rocking strangers to jazz like Queen ("The Show Must Go On"). The group even brings Suzanne Vega and Fiona Apple into the picture.
Drummer Ralph Johnson, trombonist Ryan Fraley, pianist Justin Kessler and singer Lydia McAdams refashion all of this music and they do an impeccable job on their respective contributions. "The Show Must Go On" is a transitioning wonder, with piano, accordion, strings and a flat-out rock sound at work at various times. Vibes, bass and voice mingle with winning results on Waits' "Swordfishtrombone," Vega's "Caramel" benefits from some sly low brass backgrounds and a walking bass line, and "Selfless, Cold, And Composed" comes to life as a vibrant jazz waltz.
Instrumental soloists come and go, but McAdams' vocals are the focal point on the majority of the material. She does a commendable job selling the songs in their new yet familiar packages. Former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson drops in to help out on two of that famed band's tunes, but his role is minimal in the album's grand scheme. The arrangers are the real stars here, as they use their large cast of players to create a well-polished end product.
Track Listing: Further To Fly; Selfless, Cold, And Composed; Caramel; Wonderous Stories; Heartbeat; It Will Be A Good Day (The River); The Ability To Swing; Think Of Me With Kindness; Swordfishtrombone; Third Stone From The Sun; Slow Like Honey; Your Latest Trick; Dirty Work; The Show Must Go On.
Personnel: Lydia McAdams: vocals; Jon Anderson: vocals (4, 6); Eddie Rich: flute, alto flute; Kara Moran: flute, alto flute; Theena Lewis-Strope: flute, alto flute; Neil Broeker: flute, alto flute; Shawn Goodman: clarinet, bass clarinet; Henry Koperski: bassoon, accordion; Sylvain Carton: saxophone, guitar; Josh Weirich: saxophone; Dave Helms: saxophone; Eddie Rich: saxophone; Dorothy McDonald: saxophone; Robert Olivera: saxophone; Alex Noppe: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jeff Anderson: trumpet, flugelhorn; Ryan Fraley: trombone; Tom Thomas: tuba; Justin Kessler: piano; Art DeQuasie: piano (14); Robert Stright: vibraphone; Chris Capitano: guitar; Lyman Medeiros: bass; Ralph Johnson: bass (1), drums, percussion; Tim Moore: drums, percussion (6); Steve Goodman: violin; Alice Demby: viola; Marjorie Hanna: cello.
Record Label: HX Music