Make Believe (re-release) – Wise Monkey Orchestra
"Make Believe" is the Wise Monkey Orchestra's second venture on the Lauan
Records label. Unlike their live offering, "They Live," this is actually a
re-release of an earlier album from their Wise Monkey Music catalog. Since
the band has gone through various transformations as horn players have come
and gone, this 1998 studio creation offers an interesting perspective on the
band's past and present work. The flavor of southwestern Latin jazz has been
one of WMO's hallmarks from the very beginning, and the four horn players on
"Make Believe" certainly steer the jams in that direction. However, the
biggest thumbprint comes from Alley who wrote and sang the majority of tunes
on the album.
Indeed, the ultimate mileage that any listener gets from this album will
depend on his or her receptiveness to Alley's powerful singing voice. In
many cases, her vocal lines are the lead, and the other musicians simply
weave a tight rhythmic groove around her breaths. The soulful quality of her
vocals really stands as the most valuable tool in WMO's utility belt.
Inviting and seductive, her singing makes the most of some thematically
repetitive, if not profound songwriting. Of course, there is much more to
this album than just a few horns and an alluring front-woman. There is a
boatload of percussion and even some nifty electronic effects courtesy of
Sean Hart and his "freak station."
The Truth is a simple song to start the album. Upbeat and positive,
Alley paints the foreground of the picture, while Andy Geib and Robby Helm
provide brass fills to complete a simple song of freedom. "Deal in the truth
and reality, cuz inside the truth everyone is free." Grass Skirt has
a heavier back-beat, with Sean Hart lending a heavy foot to the bass drum.
Ed Fletcher and Tim Pacheco on percussion also help to crank WMO's rhythmic
engine. The song-title fits the luau or hula dance beat, but doesn't seem to
reconcile with the lyrics, which seem to come from within Alley's frustrated
Happy Days and The Other Side also contain lyrics that reflect
the singer's personal conflicts and inner demons. Not that there's any
evidence of a literal connection, those themes just work their way into the
text of the music, as if to tell the "Make Believe" storyline. Smog
is one of the more mellow selections on the album. Written by Hart, it is
much slower and spacier than the other dance-oriented numbers. Alley sings
here as well, but Hart ads some creative electronic effects to match the
title and sound of that song.
The instrumentals, Jerry’s Song and Blues For Jordy are very
different because the players are not so much backing Alley as they are
expanding the scope and scale of their jams. Jerry Demink leads the band on
the former, for his only guest appearance on the album. His aggressive
guitar work really carves out a deep groove into the WMO landscape. Overall
this album is a good example of the Wide Monkey Orchestra's strengths, and
also serves as a bookmark to compare how they have evolved in the past 3
years. Those that can appreciate the power of a seductive female voice, and
the fun of a latin jazz jam will find plenty to appreciate here.