Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Brian Setzer Orchestra – Wolfgang's Big Night Out (2007)

I'm sure classical music fans will howl about the crimes committed on the latest release by The Brian Setzer Orchestra so let this be a warning to those of you whose ears are easily offended: Wolfie and Ludwig never rocked like this. Even to this band's most ardent fans Wolfgang's Big Night Out may appear to be the biggest gimmick this side of Weird Al Yankovic but somehow it's a contrivance that works.

I don't know if Setzer meant this album as a joke or not. He takes some of the world's most famous classical masterpieces and hilariously renames them after totally reinventing them. Beethoven's "Fur Elise" became "For Lisa," "Blue Danube" has evolved into "Some River In Europe," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" became "Take A Break Guys." The "1812 Overture" is now "1812 Overdrive." The title track was derived from Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" and Mendelssohn's famous wedding march is renamed "Here Comes The Broad." I'll let you decide if the last title is offensive.

Most of the disc is fast and loud, offering a "party hearty" atmosphere for all who listen. As usual, Setzer mixes his distinctively flamboyant electric lead guitar with brass and reeds that rock and roll from start to finish. Ten of the twelve tracks are instrumentals. It has been written more than once that this album's jazz-rock arrangements are quite intricate (it is obvious that a lot of time and effort went in to the CD's production) suggesting that my comments about this disc being a prank on serious music may not be valid.

The best track is the small group arrangement of "For Lisa" featuring violin, clarinet, and Setzer on acoustic guitar. It's a quiet, tasteful, and serious adaptation that jazz, folk, and classical fans can all love. On the other hand "Take A Break Guys" will blow up your speakers if you jack the volume up to ten. Setzer's guitar solo on the track reminds me of Eric Clapton's on the Cream standard "Crossroads." It's an intense piece but still a rocking good time.

The popular big bands of the 1930s and 40s frequently adapted the classics into jazz arrangements so what Setzer has done here is not a novel idea. In fact, I assume he is also stealing his own idea from the orchestra's first Christmas album, Boogie Woogie Christmas, that featured a version of the "Nutcracker" based on an arrangement by Les Brown's old swing band. Setzer and his crew give a whole new meaning to the term "classic rock" because now we know that the classics can indeed rock.

1 comment:

  1. I like Setzer, he's kept rockabilly alive. My first exposure to him was in the movie La Bamba in which he played Eddie Cochran and performed Cochran's hit Summertime Blues. I believe he at other times has also covered Cochran's C'Mon Everybody (heck even the Sex Pistols covered that one), and Somethin' Else (Led Zeppelin has covered that one as well).

    Setzer is quite a guitarist and he really does keep me coming back for more.