by wjw on December 9, 2007

Okay, so you gotta admire the sheer commercial brilliance of this idea. You recruit six hot-bodied classically-trained violinists, either fresh from the conservatory or still in the conservatory. These people are really sharp musicians, equally at home with bluegrass, jazz, sambas, klezmer, the Great American Songbook, and the classical repertoire.

You put the boys in tight pants, and the girls in form-fitting spaghetti-strap tops. Then you back them up with a trap set, bass, and guitar, and send them out to do an eclectic, family-friendly, essentially soul-free act complete with choreography. You put them on the road 250 days per year, and when they burn out or go back to school or get a career playing Paganini, you just replace them with some other conservatory students who needs jobs. And you watch the money roll in.

This is Barrage, who we saw the other night in Socorro, the Athens of the Southwest. At first I thought the entertainment a little too Walt Disney World for my tastes, but I have to admit that in the end the kids won me over. Firstly, they really are superb musicians. It was great fun watching them trade licks and leads. The arrangements are imaginative. (“We Three Kings” rescored to 5/4 time and played as a jazz piece counts as imaginative, at least as popular entertainment goes.) The musicians were genuinely enthusiastic, and enthusiasm is catching.

And I wasn’t precisely truthful when I described the music as soul-free. In part that’s a function of the fact they play really, really fast. Soul can only enter on the slower numbers, and there were precious few of those.

Plus Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” is pretty amazing rescored for violins. And they showed good taste by including a violinized version of the Jess Stacy piano solo recorded at Carnegie Hall by the Goodman band. And we got to hear “Bolero,” with the lead by the sultry Naseem Khozein. As it’s That Time of the Year, we heard a lot of Christmas music, but the scores were imaginatively different, so even I, whose Christmas hero is the Grinch, enjoyed them.

As manufactured bands go, Barrage is top of the class.

But I wish they were my idea, because then, y’know, I could cash all those checks.

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