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The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, NORWIND records, 2013

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, NORWIND records, 2013

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Great (old) news from Norway. In October 2013 The Norwegian Wind Ensemble released his tribute to Frank Zappa: The Brass From Utopia. In the words of the artistic leader Stian Aareskjold: “In 1993 I, as many others, was blown away by Frank Zappa’s record with Ensemble Modern, The Yellow Shark, from that day I dug into the complex, wonderful and humorous world of Frank Zappa, I wanted to play his music. And I wanted to do it in a new way. Not as a copy of Zappa’s own band. Not as a copy of the Ensemble Modern. I wanted to do it for brass and percussion. It took a while to find the right group of brass players, but The Norwegian Wind Ensemble has got the perfect mix of musicians to express the many styles and moods of Zappa’s intriguing music. They took the Challenge!” (from the liner notes).

The outcome is truly entertaining, the Ensemble is tight and deliver a very accurate performance, mostly of familiar arrangements adapted for this particular setting, with a lot of new details that contribute to create their original voice as Zappa performers. The album includes three new transcriptions also, and this is a really appealing part of their work, for sure for who is looking for a new light upon the Zappa catalogue. Namely Fembot In a Wet T- Shirt, I Promise not to Come in Your Mouth and Blessed Relief. And between those three I would choose re-orchestration of the Zappa in New York song as the most intriguing. The original is great and The Norwegian Wind Ensemble succeeded in rendering the ambiguous tone of such a “sensitive instrumental ballad for late-nite easy listening”, and for creatures from the outer space.

From the Det Norske Blåseensemble (DNBE) profile web page, and with a little help of a pernicious on-line translator, we understand that the Ensemble is a very old institution, being founded in 1774, that today focuses on improvised music and early music, especially baroque.

In the case of the Zappa album, “Det Norske Zappa-ensemble” is a thirteen piece band: ten brass musicians (two of them at bass trombone and tuba), one drummer and two percussionists.

Here are the complete credits from back and inner sleeve (note that it is a ZFT approved project).

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, digipack back cover

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, digipack back cover

 

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, digipack inner cover

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, The Brass From Utopia, digipack inner cover

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The album starts with Peaches en Regalia, the reference arrangement is that of the Ensemble Modern (from Greggery Peccary and other Persuasions). In this case the piece starts at a slower tempo and there are a lot of differences in the orchestration, such as a written trombone solo (0:58-1:14) instead of a woodwinds/guitar section, just to give an example. A perfect intro to the sound of the Ensemble.

Medley from “Make a Jazz Noise Here” declares his origin in the name. This arrangement sounds quite natural due to the brass nature of the original. The Tuba lines are a truly entertaining substitute of the Scott Thunes parts. And the xylophone instead of the electric guitar intro to Theme from Lumpy Gravy is a choice that gives a slightly different tone to the humor inside. It would be interesting to hear this very same version in a mix where the percussion is more upfront, it seems too much far here.

For the next two pieces the reference arrangement is the Dog/Meat Yellow Shark duo. The lack of woodwinds adds drama in some passages, during the first Dog Breath theme for instance, the band timbre sounds really dark.

Back to Make a Jazz Noise Here for the first part of Big Swifty. The classical quotes are here also: Lohengrin, prelude to act III (Wagner), Carmen (Bizet) and the 1812 Overture (Tchaikovsky). The following Best Band improvised “Jazz Noise” section is replaced by a long trumpet solo where the Ensemble swings like a great Jazz Big Band. Back to the original for the closing section.

Fembot In a Wet T-Shirt, the first new transcription, follows and goes with the Joe’s Garage version until more or less 2:15 in the original, which features a middle section with the short composition #8, and materials from the first movement of Mo ‘N Herb’s Vacation. Especially for this middle section the result is brilliant, and the Ensemble is really at ease with the swing nature of the rest of the piece.

Revised Music for Low Budget Orchestra follows the line of the Ensemble Modern arrangement included in Greggery Peccary and other Persuasions, but of course the orchestration is substantially different. The “guitar solo section” is given to the lead trombone and to the trumpet in replacement of the trombone/violin homologous of the Ensemble Modern, and the result is likewise effective.

I Promise not to Come in Your Mouth enters and some sort of heavy listeners will fly to New York, right away in 1976. The guitar solo section is played by the trombone, while the keyboard solo one is played by the trumpet. Thanks to DNBE the world has a new reference for this piece, to be hopefully played a lot more in the future.

Echinda’s Arf (Of You) follows the original, the brass way. Being so near to the Roxy by Proxy tour de force, the above mentioned heavy listener may only hope for a next two drummers brass version.

This Blessed Relief sounds already as a classic, as the other two new transcriptions. One should only ask why they materialized so late in this form. Great trombone solo, great overall swing.

With Dupree’s Paradise we are again back to Make a Jazz Noise Here, with the same approach followed for Big Swifty. Here also the original abstract improvised section is replaced with a Jazz Big Band section. The result is the shortest version ever conceived, but a lot swinging anyway.

G-Spot Tornado for the finale, of course the Ensemble Modern is the reference. A big challenge with a sparkling result. Size of course matters, the impact of the Ensemble Modern full orchestra and throttle is huge, but this accurate rendition is highly entertaining and the long final gong sound is a perfect closer.

“The gong always gets ’em.” Frank Zappa, “Carved In The Rock”, Roxy by Proxy

The Norwegian Wind Ensemble, Echinda’s Arf (Of You), Yellow Snow Festival, Larvik, Norway, February 11, 2012

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