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Anybody who reads this review first needs to understand my cast of mind. A brief description of a trip I took to Manhattan a few months ago should do the trick. It was a Friday afternoon, and I was riding in a taxicab when a swinging big-band version of "Meet The Flintstones" came on the radio. I wasn't in the cab long enough to find out who the band was, but I immediately abandoned most of my weekend plans to comb the city's music stores in search of the CD.
If you're a like-minded lunatic who's drawn to offbeat versions of TV and movie themes, you'll love this second release from Oranj Symphonette, an experimental jazz-rock quintet from San Francisco.
The latest incarnation of Oranj Symphonette consists of five well-regarded session players: Matt Brubeck (cello/bass), Joe Gore (guitar), Ralph Carney (horns), Pat Campbell (drums) and Rob Burger (keys). On their fine debut release, this group delivered improvisational versions of Henry Mancini tunes. This sophomore effort is even more inventive as the Symphonette transforms film music and standards into 13 wacky but infectious ditties.
In Oranj Symphonette's creative hands, "The Magnificent Seven" is given a pseudo klezmer treatment and "Satin Doll" becomes a menacing shuffle. "They Call Me Mister Tibbs" includes sinister farfisa organ, Turkish sax, and a deep groove. John Barry's "Beat Girl" marries a surf beat with smooth jazzy sax. "Bananas" becomes a wild polka, "Midnight Cowboy" an ethereal Western soundscape, and "Up, Up and Away" plods along in pleasing Wayne Horvitz-like fashion.
Cellist Matt Brubeck (son of pianist Dave) arranged seven of this 13 cuts and deserves much of the credit for this band's peculiar vision. Other cuts here include twisted takes on "A Man and a Woman," "Arabesque," "Midnight Cowboy," "Chelsea Bridge," and "Valley of the Dolls."
The members of Oranj Symphonette are fine musicians, and while their sound may properly be regarded as avant-garde jazz with rock sensibilities, it's also very accessible. Most of these melodies have become part of the fabric of Amercian life, and it's wicked fun to hear these eccentric treatments. The next logical step for Oranj Symphonette might be to record some originals, but I'll be content if they keep messing with muzak's greatest hits and various standards.
By the way, my Flintstones quest ended successfully when I tracked down a copy of Introducing Roger Neumann's Rather Large Band. Many jazz fans who are also couch potatoes should love this one, too.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.