Nov 25, 2012
As a child of the
1970’s, progressive rock was a big part of my musical life. Bands
like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer were huge at that time,
much to the chagrin of rock purists and my father, who thought they
butchered classical music, I have fond memories of seeing
Hartford Civic Center on their “Works” tour, just after they let go
the symphony orchestra previously being schlepped on tour with
Ryan Fraley is a bit more than a decade younger than me, but his early record collection included many of the “prog rock:” masterpieces from the 1970’s. In a move that brings together his early exposure to that music with his strength as a jazz arranger and performer, he has helped create the Wave Mechanics Union, a group of jazz musicians who create large ensemble arrangements of songs from the prime days of Gentle Giant, Yes and King Crimson.
Further to Fly is there second CD, following the highly enjoyable Second Season. Rather than stay only with re-imaginings of rock groups, the Union has added a touch of singer-songwriter to their list, creating new and exciting opportunities for the core members of the group to reinterpret songs they love. Apparently they are doing a good job, as no less a figure than Jon Anderson, the lead singer of Yes, asked to join them for two tracks on the new CD.
Podcast 315 is my conversation with Ryan, discussing how the group chooses songs and creates arrangements and what kind of audience they have been attracting. Musical selections include:
“Rain Song” from Second Season. Vocalist Lydia McAdams turns the Led Zeppelin power ballad into an orchestral tour-de-force from the first CD.
“Wondrous Stories” from Further to Fly, Yes lead singer and songwriter Jon Anderson contributed background vocals to this song, rearranged by Fraley. Sylvain Carton contributes the saxophone solo. Fraley wrote of this tune, which he first heard at the age of 4, “True, this song was written when I was four years old. But I have admired it since I was old enough to pay attention. This is the kind of song writing that makes Yes so attractive to me — the unpredictable harmonic progression; the angular, soaring melody; and the stream-of-consciousness lyrics all meld into a trippy and rich experience.”
Title Track from Further to Fly. Paul Simon’s South American inspired tune is arranged by percussionist Ralph Johnson, who adds a hot solo to the track. Carlton again solos on sax.
“Dirty Work” from Further to Fly This Steely Dan tune (trivia time – David Palmer sang the original version, one of the few songs on which Donald Fagen did not take the lead) was arranged by Justin Kessler, who explains “While my original interest in ‘Dirty Work’ was derived from the lyrics, the recognizable hook and surprisingly simple (for Steely Dan) chord progression lent itself well to a solo piano treatment with a darker, more angular reharmonization that I think complements the sentiment of the lyrics.”