REVIEW: Brian Setzer Orchestra – Wolfgang’s Big Night Out

I’m not going to be coy, and I’m not going to waste time making you wait to hear my opinion of Brian Setzer’s newest effort, Wolfgang’s Big Night Out. The album, a recent release on the Surfdogs label, is a glorious romp that suits my musical tastes in a way I’ve seldom encountered.

It’s almost as if Setzer took a can opener to my head to see what was inside. (Now there’s a scary thought.) Had he done so, he would have discovered my absolute love for updated, jazzed-up classics. It’s a type of musical alchemy that’s often been performed by musicians in the past, and Setzer’s effort compares with some of the best, including my personal favorite, Glen Gray’s Shall We Swing.

Setzer’s own story is a fascinating one, and might help explain his eclectic musical tastes. Big band swing music is not new to him, but the musical beginnings for the New Yorker actually date back to the 1980’s and his successful pop group, the Stray Cats. Setzer’s strong guitar and the group’s retro rockabilly sound became a big hit in Europe first, then then US, where they enjoyed several top ten hits.

Setzer has always been musically adventurous, and combining a love of old jazz with a continued exploration of his own musical talents led him on new paths in the years since his Stray Cats days. His musical odyssey eventually took him to swing, and he had Billboard charting success with a number of albums, culminating in his Grammy-winning Jump, Jive And Wail.

He’s continued to be fascinated by the genre, and with Wolfgang’s Big Night Out he’s again drawing on his love of swing music, but has merged it with an assemblage of ageless and familiar classical pieces. The result is a listening experience that’s impossible to resist.

There’s not a clinker in the bunch, but some of my favorites included the very first cut, “Take The 5th,” Setzer’s version of Beethoven’s best-known work. It takes off with a bang and a pounding beat that can’t be ignored. For something slightly softer but still swinging, try the title tune, which is of course based on Mozart’s familiar melody. Setzer’s guitar work is especially notable here.

And then there’s “Swingin’ Willie,” which (depending on your musical preferences) you’ll recognize as either the “William Tell Overture” — or the theme from The Lone Ranger. Again Setzer’s guitar play is outstanding, and as with all selections, his band provides a spot-on backdrop.

Other good choices include “For Lisa,” a softer sound that’s appropriate for Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” and here Setzer’s play is almost Django-like. Very nice. Or “Some River In Europe,” a version of “The Blue Danube” that is almost traditional in its sound — but it still swings.

An outstanding album from one of today’s best practitioners of big band jazz, and highly recommended.

(Follow Amazon link for sample sound clips.)
1. Take The 5th (Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5”)
2. One More Night With You (Grieg’s “Hall Of The Mountain King”)
3. Wolfgang’s Big Night Out (Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”)
4. Honey Man (Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight Of The Bumblebee”)
5. Yes We Can Can (Offenbach’s “The Can Can”)
6. Swingin’ Willie (Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”)
7. Sabre Dance
8. For Lisa (Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”)
9. Here Comes The Broad (Wagner’s “Lohengrin” & Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”)
10. 1812 Overdrive (Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”)
11. Some River In Europe (Strauss’ “Blue Danube”)
12. Take A Break Guys (“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”)

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