Orchestra Luna... vaudeville rock?
Posted by Bo Ellegaard on November 23, 2020 0 Comments
(Not to be confused with Dean Wareham´s 1990´s New York band Luna!!)
This obscure one album-only mid-70´s American band is difficult to pinpoint, being described as cabaret-meets Broadway-meets rock.
In my opinion there was not enough rock and it was not progressive enough to be a prog-rock band American style. Certainly not well oiled (West Coast) harmony soft rock and not jazzy rock a la Steely Dan either- in fact the closest I can come to think of is Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (but who knows them nowadays?)- although being very British music hall... or perhaps Sparks at their most theatrical (best)...but what or who are Orchestra Luna then?
Ok, I´ll try to put it down in words so that you´ll grab your smart-phone instantly to look for their music- wonder if you can find it!
They came out of Boston. Their music is "progressive and nostalgic" say the liner notes on the self titled album and go on, "Orchestra Luna is a musical feast- a provocative gesture in a medium which thirsts for new directions"...well, we´ll return to thirst for new directions later on!
The music is like something out of the 1930´s vocal-wise, think Groucho Marx if he could sing or Joel Grey´s singing in the movie Cabaret (minus the mock German accent) but backed by harmonies like those in the 1940´s American musicals´ movies backed by a sharp playing band who really knows their way about on their instruments especially the guitarist Randy Roos. His fluid jazz-fusion guitar style saves the whole performance from being too nerdy and far out strange to enjoy but being indeed different to the American rock music of the day.
Perhaps it is just what it is? -being totally different from anything else in the 1970´s that caught my attention as being... well, "interesting" at least.
My good friend Henrik always inspired me in those days sometimes quizzing: who´s this? Sometimes stating the obvious: listen to my new record, the fantastic Zoot Allures or The Royal Scam. He could be teasing with the latest aquired taste of his (and indeed thirst) for "new directions" and it was on this occation I heard Orchestra Luna for the first time.
I must admit that it was Randy Roos´ guitar that saved my day. His jazz-fusion guitar was overwhelmingly well played in a Zappa´esque-yet-all-his-own style which in those days meant "passed" and was well fitted in with this strange mixture of musical styles- in a way it was the album´s glue!!
I wouldn´t write the whole band itself off as such as to being too much for me to stomach (after all Henrik was and is still my good friend!!) and lo and behold: the next time I stood in the London Notting Hill Gate branch of Virgin Records (great shop by the way in those days!!) in the second-hand section "it crawled into my hand, honest" (Thanks to The Fugs!).
I paid the wanted amount (1.79 GB Pounds) and on my returning back home I wondered why I bought this bloody record in the first place?!
But things can change as you may also have experienced listening to music. It is not something you can control entirely yourself. Music has its own rules and conditions and it will touch you if it has the power to do so! All you have to do is to keep an open mind when listening...
Of course I gave the record a chance or two before flogging it on to the next we-buy-sell-and-exchange record shop but you know what? The more I played the damn thing the more it grew on me!! I even managed to get to like the somewhat "over the top" vocals as more than a novelty. In fact especially the vocals made perfectly sense when you got into the songs. Being very melodic yet completely different to "normal" singing in rock music, in their very own musical bubble Orchestra Luna had created some very original material indeed and it worked well for them on this album.
As a small appendix here I have to expand on this subject by passing on the luck of the vinyl hunter. A while ago in a local shop I suddenly saw a record I had never seen before let alone heard of: the Randy Roos solo effort Mistral from 1978 and I just had to buy it. The music on it had nothing at all to do with the Vaudeville Rock of Orchestra Luna but it was a thrill to listen to his guitar playing again now in a more familiar setting. The added bonus of a then young guitarist Mike Stern was also a joy as was the music overall, nice jazz/rock fusion.
In fact it prompted me to search a little on the internet on the name "Randy Roos" and to my surprise he was still playing/teaching/recording music now as a lecturer at Berklee and owning the recording studio Squam Sound.
In my hubris I clicked the "E-mail us" area on the studio´s homepage writing my acknowledge to this great guitarist almost 40 years after his art first came to my attention and "that was that ", I thought. At least it was in my naïvitivity because a few days later a nice and touching reply arrived in my in-box. That Randy Roos was (always) delighted to be reminded of this period of time when playing guitar for Orchestra Luna- that he was glad I liked his album and that if should I ever find myself in Eastern America I could always "give him a shout", whatever that meant? Perhaps the two of us playing old records and drinking b**r all night long?!! All the same it shows him as a very generous and down to earth musician indeed!
Find Orchestra Luna on: http://www.unterzuber.com/ol.html and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orchestra_Luna
Further on Randy Roos:http://www.berklee.edu/people/randy-roos and http://www.squamsound.com/index.php?PageName=5
Music: (with Scatterdust) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bQ-twe1LH2U