Go ahead, laugh it up. After all, how could you possibly take seriously a band called Happy Orchestra, that uses the classic yellow happy face as a logo in this visceral world of jazz we inhabit? How could this leader, a drummer in fact, produce music that is both danceable, and satisfying to the elite jazz audience, all the while throwing joy and humor into the mix? If you are indeed asking yourself questions such as these, then you don't know Tarik Abouzied
Happy Orchestra in a way encapsulates the jocular personality of its creator and leader, blending overwhelming positivity, with virtuosity, utilizing the talents of some of the top jazz and funk soloists on the west coast. While the music may express the intricacies of modern jazz expressionism, it never loses sight of its soulful, horn powered grooves, supported by the rhythmic virtuosity and leadership of Abouzied on drums. The personnel can vary, but always includes stellar talent such as trumpeter Thomas Marriott
, tenor saxophonist Skerik
, Tim Kennedy
on keyboards, and Andy Coe
on guitar, to name but a few. "The level of talent in this city is astounding, the community that supports this music scene is as strong as I've ever seen, and contributing to that has been incredibly life affirming. ... I want more, and so Happy Orchestra is born," states Abouzied. On Baba
, he has recreated the excitement, intensity and radiant positivity of the band's live performances in the studio, recording in a live, full band take.
"Happy One" is just that, the first tune of twelve written for the ensemble by Abouzied, and its signature tune on stage. Simple in terms of melody and harmonic structure, the tune becomes a vehicle for improvisation for two of the brightest stars on the Seattle scene, Marriott and Kennedy. Equally comfortable as a jazz pianist, or in this context, playing Rhodes and various synths, Kennedy is the constant throughout this record that is littered with top notch talent. Trading phrases with trumpeter Marriott, perhaps Seattle's best and most visible jazz musician, "Happy One," is like a primer to understand what is to come on this record-fifty four minutes of unrelenting, groove based shredding.
"Reaganing" follows suit as a groove oriented jazz/funk palette generously supplying space for improvisational expression conceptually in the spirit of bands like Kneebody
and Snarky Puppy
. Guitarist Coe supplies the shred generously, demonstrating why he is such an in demand presence on both the jazz and jam band scenes in the Pacific Northwest. Kennedy drops an atmospheric, textural, tempo changing synth bomb in the middle of the festivities, demonstrating once again why he is the foundational piece that allows Abouzied's musical vision to gain focus, and traction to move forward.
"55" is as close to a breather, a slow tune to decompress and find solace from the never ending flow of energy that we find on Baba
. Unfortunately, as Abouzied states, "Because we are who we are, it morphed over time into an epic blues power ballad." And so it goes. Baba
is not a soul searching, introspective work, reaching deeply into one's inner sanctum of consciousness to come to some kind of musical, spiritual conclusion. Then again, what is it you seek Bodhisattva? Is not joy, contentment, and freedom of spirit situated along your path to enlightenment? If so, you may want to follow the advice of brother Abouzied, allow your body and spirit to dance, to move joyously, and just "be happy."