When asked to conceptualize their dream band for a one-off gig, the participants of this year's Red Bull Music Academy had plenty of ideas. Vilja Larjosto, 22, from Finland, would assemble the Cinematic Orchestra's bass player, Jaga Jazzist's horns and keyboardists, and a drummer from her homeland, Teppo Mäkynen. São Paulo's Bruno Silva de Morais, 26, would choose Cassandra O'Neil on keyboard, Pino Palladino on bass, Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson of the Roots on drums, Arik Marshall on guitar, and Matmos on effects. Some add just a few elements to a traditional band; others have extensive designs on just who would handle EQs and delays, processors and reverbs, turntables and mixing. So while the general public might not have recognized the artists at ArRange on Tuesday, Dec. 6, at McCaw Hall, a mighty bunch of people involved in and observant of the Red Bull Music Academy did.
The academy brings DJs, producers, musicians, and music lovers together yearly in a kind of global mutual admiration society. If you've been out at all in Seattle during the last month, you've likely seen way more hooliganism—and joy—in the clubs than usual. The ArRange show served as an academy blowout where they could witness their tutors—Stones Throw producer Oh No, Ubiquity Records' Kirk Degiorgio, Todd Simon (who has worked with Breakestra and Yesterday's New Quintet), and Underground Resistance—doing the same thing.
The day of ArRange, Oh No gave insight into hip-hop and his studio kit via a lecture to participants. That evening, he and the other new-school producers interpreted and performed songs by Brent and Clare Fischer (the latter has composed for Dizzy Gillespie, Prince, and Paul McCartney), David Matthews (who long worked for James Brown), and Eumir Deodato (Kool & the Gang, Astrid and Joao Gilberto). Backed by the Northwest Sinfonia Orchestra and with hip-hop legend Bob Power behind the mixing desk, the scene was overwhelming on paper and occasionally the opposite in performance.
It wasn't that the songs weren't interesting or even amazing—the second half of the show, featuring "Hi-Tech Jazz," by UR's Galaxy 2 Galaxy and arranged by Deodato, and "Keep It in the Family," which reversed the credits, were heady crowd pleasers. It's that there was just too much to look at. Teams of illustrators at the stage's side created to the music, while a camera crew distorted and projected their works on a screen above the stage; also projected was a hand writing out the name and credits of each piece (which were already printed on the program). A non-star-studded show might have benefited from these embellishments; when Todd Simon threw down a trumpet solo from the conductor's platform, it was a lot more fun to watch than the FX on the screen. Seeing the passion these behind-the-scenesters have for music was both education and entertainment.
A feeling of obscurity pervaded the show, but the crowd of B-boys sitting near me nodded in time with each song—it makes sense that the academy would be held in Seattle, where critics and audiences and dancers want to get to the origin of every beat. Arguably the best thing about ArRange is that Red Bull donated $5 a head to the VERA Project.