Alex Paxton: Happy Music for OrchestraBy
Paxton's 2023 album, Happy Music for Orchestra, sets the bar high by challenging the composer to deal with the whole orchestra, and even water percussion. Paxton describes it as "more of an unplugged album. It's almost entirely acoustic sounds, rather than electronic sounds. It's a bit more classicalwriting for classical instrumentalists, and orchestral musiciansas opposed to contemporary classical specialists." His style, nonetheless, still shines through with the use of a roaring and bustling brass, restless strings, high-pitched buzz and an omnipresent sense of playfulness and easy-goingness. The opening track "Love Kitten," full of textural vibrancy, starts with a catchy trombone phrase, changing the imagery kaleidoscopically as it progresses. Even without using electronic means, he creates the sense of a crisp hyperpop-infused electronic sound; there is a constant sense of movement, a kind of musical anarchy.
Melody is at the heart of Paxton's compositional approach, a feature harking back to his background as an improvising trombonist. The buzzing trombone solo in "Od Ody Pink'd" underpins the song with a constant presence, resembling a confused bee flying all over the place, while the orchestra creates a sense of grandeur and drama against which this solo is played. At 11:28, "Strawberry" is the longest work on this disc; it is still a persistent barrage of wandering melodies, whistling tones and flatulent noisesa kind of 21-century polyphonybut with a twist. There are now drums, alto saxophone and voice, performed by David Ingamells, Matthew Herd and Parry Terry respectively, which add new timbral qualities to the music, should one get overwhelmed with the persistence of Paxton's texture.
Contrary to what one might expect from the name of Happy Music for Orchestra, there is also a more melancholic side to the album. "Water Music" is more thoughtful, pondering and even mysterious. Paxton's choice of water percussion, played by Beibei Wang, adds the perfect shade of colour to the textural richness of the track, the high frequencies that make his music pop and click. But, perhaps most touching, is Paxton's bittersweet "Bye," with its ever-present melodic riff which simply doesn't let you go, just like you don't let it. It is reminiscent of meeting someone special who you do not want to part ways with.
Listening to all three albums that Paxton has so far produced, it is difficult to say which is his best. Happy Music for Orchestra is more "classical," refined and less rough than his previous two discs; these are definitely his concert pieces. It is nonetheless a great addition to his triptych, allowing the listener to pick what works for them. More importantly, it is a testament to how a talented musician can always adapt to whatever challenges lie ahead. Paxton's lovely and complex layering of sounds, reminiscent of the hectic, anxiety-ridden modern-day lifestyle, should remind us that, even in the midst of unreplied emails, unpaid bills, and a growing sense of loneliness in a more-than-ever interconnected world, it is still possible to find joy and feel alive.
Love Kitten; Od Ody Pink'd; Strawberry; Water Music; Sweet Wishes; Bye.
Alex Paxton: trombone; Beibei Wang: percussion; Patrick Terry: voice / vocals; Matthew Herd: saxophone; David Ingamells: drums.
Title: Happy Music for Orchestra | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Delphian Records
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About Alex Paxton
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