I’ve heard plenty of orchestral arrangements in my lifetime. That said, never before have I heard anything quite like Crump Cake Orchestra. Their appropriately titled album Just Awesome is full of surprises, featuring a mix of jazz, soul, groove, a touch of R&B and a whole lot of personality, all packaged within a monstrous 18-piece outfit. The band is so large, in fact, that they had to record the album in a concert hall; but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the sound quality of the music.
Fans of smooth jazz and swing alike will dig album opener “Italian,” which kicks off with a bold trumpet that melts into a more classic, sweeping rhythm with a dose of soul added for good measure. On the other hand, the title track “Just Awesome” combines a quieter, more subtle groove with an almost beachy guitar riff. Things get interesting when it takes a twist with the addition of heavily auto-tuned vocals. Though on paper it sounds odd, the technique was well applied and the pure electronic sound of the vocals added character to the song that works extremely well. It seems to have been a risk well taken in this case.
Some of the songs appear to tell a story. For instance, cheery “Finish Him!,” a song that appears late in the album, feels like something straight out of a 90s television sitcom (which isn’t a bad thing in the least). Further, the “Theme ( to “Crump Cake the Musical”) makes me think of private investigator music, painting the mental picture of someone slinking through the dark streets in the rain chasing a suspect. In similar fashion to the surprising electronic vocals previously mentioned, this theme features a guitar solo that can only be described as the well-cultured child of jazz and heavy metal.
There are a few tracks that stand out for their sheer musical strength and clarity. “Starlight” is one of those tracks, a song reminiscent of old school Marvin Gaye. We’re treated to very pleasant, clean vocals that sound perfect over the laid back rhythm. Adding to the feel of the song is the singer’s amazing range – at certain points it sent chills down my spine.
My favorite song on the album, by far, was the cover of Peter Combe’s “Toffee Apple.” The creativity of the group really shines in this literal and humorous ode to toffee apples, a song carried by the same vocals in “Starlight.” You will leave this song hungry for an apple, and wondering how on earth the vocalist managed to maintain such powerfully high notes.
The album calms down after that song and seems prepared to end soon, with the billowy instrumental piece “Flowers and Stuff” acting as a sort of soothing relief from the hilarity of the previous song, and also serving as what sounds like the largest coordinated jam session you may ever hear. Even the final song “Omoi” comes with a surprise, featuring a really nice piano bit that hadn’t even been hinted at before. This is where Crump Cake Orchestra really takes you home, and ends on a strong note.
It’s really fun to hear soul, jazz, and funky rhythms packaged in the grand orchestra sound – and it’s certainly a pleasant turn from the more classical orchestras normally seen. After listening to this album I’d like to see them perform live; only good things can come from watching 18 people produce the kind of sound found here. Just Awesome is perfect for anyone who appreciates classic sound but also likes to hear it adapted and freshened for a more modern audience.
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