Christopher O'Riley, True Love Waits: Christopher O'Riley Plays Radiohead (Sony Odyssey, 2003)
Quadruped, Barbeque of Souls (Spying Dwarf Records, 2001)
Chatham Baroque, Henry Purcell: Sonatas and Theatre Music (Dorian Recordings, 2002)

Don't like words cluttering up your enjoyment of beautiful music? Well, then, have I got three albums for you. Step right over here and I'll show you some of the offerings we have available today. First up, we find a classical pianist rendering the music of an alternative rock band while remaining comfortably in his own element.

On True Love Waits, pianist Christopher O'Riley has taken fifteen songs off of Radiohead's acclaimed albums Pablo Honey, The Bends, OK Computer, Kid A, and Amnesia (the title cut comes from the live I Might Be Wrong) and adapted them for solo piano -- just the perfect thing for those curious about the band's complex melodies, but turned off by the wailing (some say whiny) voice of lead vocalist Thom Yorke. Though originally presented with the help of a computer, O'Riley plays them completely bare, without accompaniment, completely organic.

And in what ways, you may ask, does this album differ from the instrumental adaptation of pop songs (and pop culture pariah) that goes by the name of Muzak? O'Riley chose these specifically because they would sound good on a piano; he wants the music adapted properly, not simply re-recorded by a nameless orchestra and piped into your local Safeway. True Love Waits is meant to be listened to actively in order to appreciate the nuances of the music, not to passively wash over you while you search for the cheapest brand of creamed corn.

Christopher O'Riley is a stunning pianist. I kept checking the liner notes to make sure that there was only one person playing the music, especially in the busier parts for which Radiohead have become famous. Only being somewhat familiar with the band's music before listening to this album, I was not quite sure what to expect, although I had heard a performance/interview with O'Riley on NPR which gave me an inkling, and I have most of the albums necessary for a basic appreciation. However, as I didn't have the key disc from which the bulk of True Love Waits was taken, I borrowed it from a friend who is a fan and who was eager to be of assistance.

Radiohead are no strangers to adaptations of their music. A search on Amazon.com found no less than four albums devoted to Radiohead covers; two by The String Quartet (one entirely of OK Computer), one of other bands doing the songs, and one electronica selection. But what makes O'Riley's album the classic of the bunch is the heart behind it. Since he is a fan, he does his best to retain the dignity of the music and its original feel, even incorporating singer Yorke's sometimes strange vocal sounds into the melody. The songs remain remarkably similar to their origins, easily identifiable to the familiar ear. We end up with the same meal, just on a different plate; something to which fans of the band with an appreciation of the complexity of the music will surely gravitate.

Next, if you'll follow me, you'll see what we call the Quadruped. It's a four-legged creature consisting of guitarist Andrew Frontini and drummer Blake Howard and we are lucky enough to find them in their natural habitat, enacting their ritualistic "barbeque of souls."

No, Barbeque of Souls isn't the latest death metal album from one of those bands with chainsaws and fire on their covers, and names like Obituary and Mortician. If it is possible, Quadruped's album is exactly the opposite, an album that makes you feel good. This two-man combo creates a jazzy, melodic, album that feels less like eight different songs than a guitar/drum concerto with eight movements.

The title track leads off the album, its title presumably coming from a poem in the liner notes that ends with the lines "offramp, merger, robot tolls/for dinner? barbeque of souls" which, while not really offering any insight into the piece, are entertaining nonetheless. Most of the songs are mellow and understated, but near the end, they throw in tunes like "Azzuri Boys" and "Whistling in the Wind" to stir things up. It's as if the album as a whole crescendos to a smashing conclusion in the form of "Live at Leeds." See what I mean about a singular cohesive piece of music?

At 42 minutes, Barbeque of Souls manages the feat of being "just enough." Of course, if I want more, that need is easily remedied by the "repeat" function on my CD player, given that the end of the final track (and the best, "Live at Leeds") blends in perfectly with the first track again, making for a seamless interchange. Though some of the riffs are reminiscent of Jimmy Page's acoustic riffs with Led Zeppelin on "Black Mountain Side" and "White Summer" --and I'm not saying that's a bad thing -- the effect is one of complete originality.

And lastly, I lead you to our exhibit known as Chatham Baroque. We visit them as they travel back to the late seventeenth century and perform the Sonatas and Theatre Music of composer Henry Purcell. Please keep a respectful silence as you file past on your way towards the exit.

Before Sonatas and Theatre Music, my only exposure to Henry Purcell was through his opera, Dido and Aeneas, which, while not considered one of the great operas, is in English and thus easy for a newcomer to understand and use to begin to appreciate this form of storytelling.

Chatham Baroque (Julie Andrijeski: violin; Emily Davidson: violin; Patricia Halverson: viola de gamba; and Scott Pauley: theorbo, baroque guitar, and archlute; with guest Scott Metcalfe: viola and violin) have compiled an hour's worth of Purcell's chamber music, consisting of five sonatas, two sets of incidental music written to accompany a couple of obscure plays, and a dance piece previously unpublished. Chatham Baroque's obvious love of the period -- and their dedication to reproducing the early-music sounds -- shines through in this recording. This is especially remarkable as the album was recorded in the days following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Pauley's extensive liner notes make this a real treat for the burgeoning fan as he goes into the history surrounding the works and fits them in the Purcell timeline. In addition, as Purcell has a singular style inherent in his work, the pieces can be appreciated separately or they blend together well enough to make a complete, uninterrupted listening experience.

On listening to Sonatas and Theatre Music I began to wonder why Henry Purcell is not more well-known among the general populace. There is nothing particularly hard to grasp in his music, in fact, it seems to be written for just that audience. One can only hope that Chatham Baroque's album will do its part in remedying this.

 

[Craig Clarke]

Christopher O'Riley, in addition to his eponymous Web site,
also has one devoted specifically to True Love Waits (with a different design suiting the album),
where a song not on the album ("No Surprises" from OK Computer)
is available in addition to the liner notes missing from the CD.

Visit Quadruped's Web site and read an interview with the band.

Chatham Baroque, despite their pre-millennium leanings, are on the Web, too.