There’s something unique about small wind and/or brass ensembles, the way they seem to exist in another time and move through the world at an entirely different pace. I’ll even narrow my focus to modern ensembles, since classical woodwind and brass compositions put too fine of a point on the sound I’m trying to describe. I’m talking about contemporary ensembles, those who capture those light and quick sensibilities of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and, of course, a horn as contrarian. This is music as narration, a soundtrack for a lovely walk in the city, taken many years ago. I’m talking about Van Dyke Parks’ arrangements for Joanna Newsom‘s Ys, or the Bird and the Bee with Inara George. I’m talking about Benji Kaplan. I’m talking about Wayne Alpern (website) and his new album, Jukebox.
The idea of Jukebox is rather straightforward. Wayne Alpern is a composer and arranger known for what he calls post-genre music, which seems like it’s that vibe I’m trying to explain. He takes familiar songs from the Great American Songbook and from films and from the very history of rock and roll and arranges them for a very specific ensemble consisting of Gretchen Pusch on flute, Gerard Reuter on oboe, Benjamin Fingland on clarinet, Karl Kramer-Johansen on horn and Adrian Morejon on bassoon.
Can you hear it already? Light, ethereal versions of songs like “Penny Lane,” “Don’t Stop Believing” and even the Nutcracker Suite? The joy of Wayne Alpern’s visions is how consistent he maintains his discipline, specifically the pacing and the dreamy flow. That creates a recurring sense of surprise as you realize what is being played. I suspect a common reaction is “I’ve never heard it like this, so unusual and beautiful and, well, just different.”
That’s why Wayne Alpern has achieved such an intimate little masterpiece here. Jukebox will sound different to each listener based upon a personal history with each song, but the perspective of this quintet will challenge you to either accept or ignore the new ideas. Fortunately Alpern is a thoughtful and talented arranger, which means your reaction won’t be “Oh my God, they ruined this.” Nope, it’s always a delightful challenge to listen to a familiar song in a new way. If that sounds like fun, you’ll love Jukebox.