The Brian Setzer Orchestra
I was driving to the office one morning recently while I listened to my local classic rock station on the radio. The morning radio personalities were interviewing Brian Setzer by telephone and they were discussing his latest projects. Many of you may recognize Setzer as the leader of The Stray Cats. Twenty years ago, The Stray Cats introduced Rockabilly to the younger generation. The musical style may have been old, but the music was new and fresh. Since then, Setzer has led The Brian Setzer Orchestra, while moving backwards chronologically from Rockabilly to Swing and Big Band. After a couple of Christmas releases, Setzer decided to record and album of Classical music chestnuts, but to jazz them ups a bit. The interview was interesting, and while no excerpts of the CD were played, it sounded as if the radio station guys had not only listened to the music, but were excited by it. I bought it shortly thereafter.
"Jazzed up a bit" may be a bit of an understatement. Think Emeril Lagasse, the Cajun chef. BAM! What Legasse does with food, Setzer has done with the thirteen tracks that make up Wolfgang's Big Night Out From the opening track "Take the 5th- An Adaptation of Beethoven's 5th Symphony" I knew I was in for something different and special. While I enjoy Beethoven's 5th, I consider it angry and rather somber. Kick up the tempo a few notches, however and it becomes joyous and happy. The same treatment has been given to such classics as Tchiakovsky's 1812 Overture as well as "The Nutcracker Suite." All the way through the CD, I found my fingers snapping and my toes tapping. This album is fresh, creative, and flat out fun.
Every track is titled as an adaptation, and that's what they are. A couple of tracks even have vocals added (gasp!) Upon originally listening to the disc, I thought it ranged from clever to brilliant, but I thought less of the vocal tracks. After listening to the disc a few more times, I came to enjoy the album equally the whole way through. Wolfgang's Big Night Out was recently nominated for a Grammy, and rightfully so. This is the most Grammy deserving album I have heard in years.
From listening to not only his latest release, but also his earlier works, it is apparent that Brian Setzer is an excellent guitar slinger technically, but also that the man understands tone, something that I find far too many players lack. His Gretsch hollow body electric drips tone in his talented hands. Sonically, the album is every bit as good as it is musically.
I have some advice for those squares who believe that classical music should only be played one way -- the "proper "way. Go buy Wolfgang's Big Night Out. Put your suit jacket in the closet, remove your bow tie, kick off your Oxfords, and groove man, groove.