Eddie Lascu 28-April-2008 Orchestra Luna

... and the curtains go down for the Nth time, leaving me with the same hunger for more, a sensation I felt from the moment I heard this production for the first time.

As I listened to this album, over and over again, I kept asking myself: What were they thinking? How on Earth would anyone think to combine these styles together and still expect to create something at least remotely enjoyable? And yet some transcendental forces most have intervened and made these parallel universes intersect. Acid? Madness? Divine inspiration? No one knows and no one cares. What we care is that we were given a chance to listen to this outrageous masterpiece. There are several reviews of Orchestra Luna spread across the Internet. All of them acknowledge one thing: it’s impossible to describe this album. Everyone tries, but eventually they give up. Be warned that my review may also fall short and not be able to do justice to Orchestra Luna. You own it to yourself to pick this one up and give it a try.

Given the ensemble of instruments (guitar, keyboard, bass and drums) the inclusion in the realm of rock is justified. That is alright until one starts to consider the arrangements of the vocal parts because they sound as if taken from a Broadway musical production. There are countless parts where narrations are used instead of actual singing. And when they sing, the three voices have a theatrical, operatic vibe. Surely, narrations in the middle of a song is not something new. Just listen to some Zappa and you will get plenty of that. But Orchestra Luna strikes an excellent balance between narration and music, something that is unprecedented.

But let’s start with the very beginning. Richard Kinscherf was a very talented pianist and songwriter active in and around the Boston musical scene. He got the idea of putting together a band that would do more music for theatre than what other bands of the same time would normally do. He recruited his sister, Lisa Kinscherf (vocals) and Liz Gallagher (vocals), a theatre graduate from Yale. This core was soon augmented by Scott Chambers (bass), Randy Roos (guitar), narrator and poet Peter Barrett and drummer Don Mulvaney. Coming back to the description of the vocal arrangements, Orchestra Luna was fronted by the ensemble of Kinscherf and the 2 female vocalists with lots of backings from Barrett’s spoken words. His addition to the band was paramount in defining the very concept and spirit of Orchestra Luna, and I am not talking just about the name of the band (turns out that Peter referred to the two girls as the “Lunettes”, hence he suggested the moniker for the band). Mixing poetry and music was not something you would normally find in mainstream progressive rock, the class of 1975. Barrett’s contribution emphasized the theatricality of this project, while infusing some kind of mystery to enthral the audience. Yes, there is an element of showbiz that appears in the music, but it’s not overwhelming us. In fact there is a perfect balance between the instrumental passages, the narrative parts and the segments where the three voices sing together in the best vaudevillian way.

All songs were written by Richard Kinscherf with two exception. Kinscherf, who later changed his name to Rick Berlin, is not only a great songwriter and a talented vocalist (he sounds a bit like Peter Hammill in his best days) but also a well accomplished piano and keyboard player. All instrumentalists are top-shelf, with a special mention of Randy Roos who is described in the liner notes as unparalleled. I cannot think of a better way to describe him. His solos on “Were You Dancin’ On Paper”, “But One” and, most notably “Doris Dreams” are not from this planet. “Doris Dreams” is the last tune on the album, a song that was almost left out if it weren’t for the president of the Epic Records who saw it in concert and liked it so much that insisted other songs be dropped to make room for it. Made up of various songs, recitations, instrumental passages including jazz, rock and operetta, the tune ends with this imperial guitar solo by Roos. From the liner notes we learn that Orchestra Luna performed “Doris Dreams” in New York for Frank Zappa’s 10th Anniversary party. After the solo, Zappa hugged Roos. The two girls were each predominantly featured on one song: Lisa on “Little Sam” and Liz (for some reasons reminding me of Kate Bush) on “Fay Wray”. Both songs are ballads of such calibre, they will melt your heart. Again, Kinscherf’s ability to orchestrate all the harmonic melodies comes into the foreground, his arrangements being simply mesmerizing.

Being discovered while playing mainly in New York and Boston, Orchestra Luna was quickly signed to Epic and recorded the eponymous album that is subject of this review less than a year after they got together. The album was released in US and UK but didn’t get too much promotion from Epic. What is worse is that the guy that signed them was shipped on to the west coast and his replacement completely hated Orchestra Luna, eventually dropping them from their roster. Kinscherf had a lot of material written, but because his musical ideas were so unique, no one knew what to make of them. Members of the band started to leave, Lisa had enough, Randy Roos went on to pursue a career in jazz, Don was off to teach and write. Richard Kinscherf had another go at it, forming Orchestra Luna 2 in a completely different line-up, but was not able to score any contracts to record his music. The magic was gone, it was over. Quickly from top to bottom in mere months was the destiny of many outstanding acts without commercial potential.

Market Square Music has re-issued this album in 2007. This is a legit re-master, including the original liner notes, the lyrics, some pictures of the band along with new John O’Regan and Rick Berlin (aka Richard Kinscherf) notes. At the time this review was written I found on the Internet a very interesting website maintained by one dedicated fan at: Orchestra Luna.

Orchestra Luna was compared with Queen because of the outrageous vocal arrangement, was compared with The Who because they brought opera into rock (although some say they brought rock into opera), was compared with Zappa because of the humor that was generously poured into the music, was compared to Roxy Music for the glamorous presence on stage. It was a little bit of all that, but mostly was a hefty dose of originality, of things done from a naive but true-to-art perspective. Orchestra Luna was a perfect marriage between 70s style progressive rock, jazz, burlesque, glam rock, pop art, psychedelia and Broadway Vaudeville musical, a collision of multiple genres that are so far apart yet combined can give birth to such a majestic masterpiece. Orchestra Luna was well ahead of its time, but unfortunately came into being at a moment when commercial considerations, narrow vision of highly placed decision makers and technical limitations were breaks in front of the geniality of simple artists. And so we are left to ponder what would this world be like if things would happen in all fairness.

When starts the next show? I wanna hear it again!

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