The Variety Orchestra is a 14-piece new music/jazz ensemble with a unique line-up combining a jazz rhythm section, Latin and Big Band horns, and the down-home Americana of pedal steel, banjo, fiddles & accordion. This mix is peppered with tabla, new music violin, tone rows, NYC bar band, Satchmo cornet growls, and a 15th century brass chorale. Originally put together in 1989 for a music festival at New York’s LaMama E. T. C., the Variety Orchestra was reconfigured in 2004 to perform in Los Angeles.
The CD is built around Mr. Woodbury’s melodic post-modern jazz compositions and features phenomenal players from both coasts – a who’s who from New York’s downtown and LA’s experimental music scenes: violins – Mark Feldman (Arcado String Trio, Dave Douglas) & Sara Parkins (Zeena Parkins, Grammy-winning Angeles Quartet); pedal steel and banjo – Marc Muller (Karen Mantler, Shania Twain); trumpet – Frank London (John Zorn, Klezmatics); woodwinds – Aaron Heick (Chaka Khan), Steve Elson (Borneo Horns, David Bowie), Will Connell (Charles Mingus) & Kurt Hoffman (The Ordinaires); bass – Conrad Korsch (Billy Joel) & Oren Bloedow (Jewel); drums – Dan Morris (Rufus Wainwright, James Carney) & Jonathan Feinberg (They Might Be Giants); vibes – Michael Webster (Tracy Chapman); and accordions – Guy Klucevsek (Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith) & Nick Ariondo (“brilliant” – Zubin Mehta).
The CD was recorded between 1990 and 2003 in New York and Los Angeles, in both analog and digital formats. It was mixed digitally in 2003. It was mastered in 2003 by Joe Gastwirt.
Now it’s official – Brian Woodbury is a multi-talented musician, bordering on genius. …he should be up there with Zappa and Beefheart.
BBC Radio 3 Mixing It, August 13, 2004
…An extraordinary confection. Surprise your dinner guests; flummox the music anoraks; and enjoy.
John Bungey, The Times (London), June 12, 2004
… a truly great bandleader and composer…. shades of Nino Rota and Zappa. (Woodbury) has a wonderful sound distinctly all his own.. The Variety Orchestra [is an] excellent album… [with] great instrumentation and orchestrations.
BBC Radio 3 Mixing It, June 25, 2004
…alluring…. there is no way to classify what Woodbury and his Orchestra do…. There are other artists who blend styles, but none quite so seamlessly and with complete abandon as Woodbury. …Full of captivating melodies and rhythms…. Clever without being coy, this album is remarkable….
John Kelman, All About Jazz, April, 2004
…you suddenly realize that you’re not in Jazzland anymore. Woodbury seems to draw inspiration from everything: The Duke, Spike Jones, Charles Ives, John Zorn, Frank Zappa, traditional Mexican bands and Rock in Opposition…. The cast of musicians is an impressive roll call of LA and NYC experimental sidemen… …Woodbury’s witty sense of humor and indubitable talent for writing intricate, whimsical music… [shines]. Highly recommended….
François Couture, All Music Guide
…Variety Orchestra is a plush, kaleidoscopic crazy quilt that playfully, intrepidly skewers all manner of Americana of the last half of the 20th century as much as it pays loving tribute to it.
Mark Keresman, primetime, May, 2004
Woodbury crosses genres like a post-modern madman… with a deft sense of structure and composition and perfect accessibility. Variety Orchestra is cartoonish without being absurd, and all shining with the kind of California optimism that enlivened Van Dyke Parks’ best work.
Jesse Jarnow, Jambands
The music is exuberant, effusive, and extremely eclectic. … a joy to hear…. an exhilarating ride… an inspired piece of hilarity… subversive and entertaining music.
John Doll, Jazz Review
…Pretty stunning…an ear-popper. Woodbury’s genius is one of musical aerodynamics.
Ken Egbert, Jazz Now
This is an acoustic big band album, a big-hearted affair full of irrepressible cheer, and played with … clean living all-American flair… It’s intelligent fun…gloomy pie is off the menu. …sheer verve and good humour ….
Clive Bell, The Wire (UK)