The crossover territory between classical, jazz and pop has remained largely uninhabited since the era when prog-rockers strove to assert their musical chops with ill-advised symphonic works and temporary alliances with classical musicians who sometimes – as Frank Zappa learnt to his dismay – regarded the commission with a disrespect bordering on contempt.
These days, things are more equable: a generation of orchestral musicians has grown up enjoying pop and rock with unashamed relish, and there are any number of capable string sections keen to feature alongside chart performers. But the large-scale crossover work remains a rarity, due to its prohibitive expense in such straitened times for the music industry.
Kudos, then, to Basement Jaxx for embarking on this marvellous project with the 60-piece Metropole Orkest, the forward-thinking Dutch ensemble, and a 20-voice choir.
The Jaxx's Felix Buxton has collaborated with conductor/ arranger Jules Buckley on a series of reinterpretations of the band's material, many of which transform the pieces so comprehensively they are barely recognisable. Switching smoothly between contemporary classical orchestrations, big-band jazz and operatic chorale, the results are frequently breathtaking in their audacity.
Take the delicate, sugarplum-fairy re-imagining of "Bingo Bango": based around waltz-time harpsichord and raffishly muted trumpet, it becomes as unashamedly widescreen as a Spielberg film score by John Williams, speeding up as it goes along like a Greek or Cossack dance – just one benefit of its being freed from sequencer rhythms.
"Do Your Thing" is very New York in flavour, a big-band jazz groove led by piano, the audience clapping along with the rattling percussion as brash trombones and sinuous saxophone take brief solos before the strings whip the piece to its conclusion. And "Hey U" is a riot of cosmopolitan eclecticism: following a grand brass fanfare, whirling strings are stalked by French horn triplets, before a subtle Latin influence adds spice, the frothing groove capped in quick succession by a sax break straight from the North African diaspora and a Balkan klezmer clarinet. Elsewhere, the bustling urban noir of "Hush Boy", with its harp and brass interplay, recalls Bernard Herrman's Taxi Driver score, while the full choral glory of "Red Alert" is utterly unrecognisable as the group's breakthrough hit, particularly when the rhapsodic solo violin emerges, pure and pristine, from the turbulent orchestration.
Not all the transformations are that daring – "Samba Magic" comes out relatively unscathed and not all are completely successful. The ballad "Lights Go Down" is perhaps too enthusiastic in its pursuit of melodrama, and "Good Luck" involves one of the less well-integrated blends of style and material – though even then, there's delightful use made of the woodwind which tiptoe around the middle-eight. But for every partial failure, there are moments of such finesse and accomplishment, like the subtle, evocative "If I Ever Recover" and the triumphal march through "Where's Your Head At", that one can only marvel at the ingenuity and resources involved.
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