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(51:03 / 'WOFO Music')
TRACK LIST: 1. Welcome to the Show 0:40 2. C-Town 3:41 3. Connorfool 2:25 4. Driving Into the Sunrise 1:02 5. Under U 3:35 6. Dogs 4:20 7. Tercio de Muerte 4:09 8. Pharaoh / Not a Game 5:11 9. The Last Line of Your Face 1:16 10. C-Town Revisited 2:35 11. Factoryland-I 10:09 12. Factoryland-II 11:58 LINEUP: Jeff Pflaumbaum - lead vocals; piano, keyboards Nadeem Majdalany - organ, keyboards; vocals Jaime Garamella - guitars; vocals Jacob Bartfield - bass Mauricio Zottarelli - drums Andres Espinoza - congas Ralf Singer - percussion John Replogle - trumpet Stefan Colson - trumpet Alvin Shimoju - trombones Ryoichi Yamaki - sax, flute Tony Yee - sax, flute Justin Keirans - sax With: Too many singers to list here
Prolusion. "Bullfighter Ballet" is the debut CD by the WINGS OF FIRE ORCHESTRA (WOFO hereafter), from Boston, United States. Quoting the outfit's founder and its individual song provider Jeff Pflaumbaum (who presents himself as a rock-&-roll composer), this is a six-horn, mixed vocal, five-piece rhythm section ensemble ushering a new age of conceptual music in the spirit of all great horn bands of the late '60s and '70s. Their website is quite sparing in text information, but I did discover there they are not a studio project, the orchestra having already several live performances behind them.
Analysis. "Bullfighter Ballet" is nothing other than a Musical to my way of thinking, although with a considerable stretch of the imagination it might even be possible to call it a Rock Opera. To be more precise, much of this music reminds me of a cross between those mid-'60s Broadway musicals that, apart from one-two central personages and numerous secondary ones, involve a massive brass section with usually a standard jazz big-band approach and the solo work of (The Animals') Alan Price whose simple, yet very impressive organ- and piano-based pop rock songs made him really a cult artist after the appearance of Lindsay Anderson's brilliant movie "Oh Lucky Man". The album has a pronounced old-style, I'd even say very-retro feeling throughout, but the music itself is not always homogeneous, of course. Despite its extreme brevity, the opening track, Welcome to the Show, is surprisingly a complete composition with brass and acoustic guitar effectively interacting with each other, the latter playing firmly in the Flamenco style. In this respect I'd like to note that no other folk colorations, apart from Spanish and related ones (Latin-American for sure), can be found on this recording. The other two very short cuts, Driving Into the Sunrise and The Last Line of Your Face, are both kinds of piano ballad, the latter with "ooh"-s from the supporting choir sounding somewhat like an excerpt from some of Queen's old-fashioned music-hall-stylized songs, such as Seaside Rendezvous for instance, though this is not the only place I was reminded of Queen when listening to "Bullfighter Ballet". C-Town Revisited is the last of the tracks that don't completely blend with the album's prevalent musical picture. With the exception of only one episode shortly before the tune's finale, which portrays a kind of unavailing attempt to take the bull by the horns on the part of - you guessed it, Jeff Pflaumbaum sings here to acoustic guitar and congas, both implied patterns rather frequently shifting their shapes. All in all, I like this shorter, purely acoustic version of C-Town better than, well, the original, which in turn falls in the aforesaid category of the recording's most widespread style - along with all the so-far-unnamed tracks. The point is that C-Town is somewhat overloaded with standard jazz tricks, with the brass playing usually either in unison or in fourths/fifths, and fails to achieve much diversity in the vocal area either. The organ work is good though, and is generally the highlight of this show. All the same words are relevant to its follow-up, Connorfool, which however begins with several girls enumerating brightly "One, two, three, four" and whose continuation just echoes its 'intro' in a way, bringing together the same gaily-excited girlish choir and the players' joint syncopated movements which, due to their so to say conventionalism, are totally predictable. Thankfully, it's Jeff who takes the duties of a lead vocalist on all the subsequent tracks, the episodes where he sings all alone much better suiting my personal taste than those stylistically typically of a musical. On each of the following three cuts, Under U, Dogs and Pharaoh / Not a Game, one or another brass player from time to time ventures on a genuinely improvisational flight with pleasingly unpredictable results. In places, these are notable for their impressive chord progressions and some vivid thematic transitions as well, all of which is like honey to my soul, though the track that is really rich in such moments is yet to be named. Heralded as a three-act mini suite, Tercio de Muerte, in fact begins and ends with a muted rock-&-roll theme, now accompanied by a man's breathing, now by handclaps and similar garbage. The saturation of the track's mid-section leaves much to be desired as well, as here are only piano, brass and vocals, all moving both slowly and rather plainly. After hearing the largely instrumental Factoryland-I (exceeding 10 minutes in duration), the one track that is really rich in various progressive features, I thought all the remainder would be outstanding, but Factoryland-II turns out to be more than merely vocal heavy - in all senses, plus abundant in repetitions. In all, it's a happy ending clearly in the manner of musicals. There is also a hidden free-of-music-as-such track placed at the end of the CD without rhyme or reason. No reason to describe it either.
Conclusion. Since narrations, dialogs, laughs and so on are widely deployed on "Bullfighter Ballet", I think WOFO have done all their best to reproduce a stage musical feel (though typically studio effects isn't something the album is lacking in either). Taking into consideration that the sound of the music itself on this certainly very laborious work is lush, warm and genuinely live alike, "Bullfighter Ballet" is definitely worthy of a good rating. However I doubt that I can recommend it from these pages. This music is destined for a relatively mass audience, something prog rock lovers are definitely not part of nowadays.
VM: May 3, 2007
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