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Hazel, the exhilarating debut by the Wing Walker Orchestra, presents a challenge of sorts to Hollywood producers — one they’ll almost certainly fail to meet. The 11-member ensemble, led by gifted bass clarinetist Drew Williams, kicks off the recording with the “Hazel Suite,” seven linked segments envisioned as the soundtrack for Saga, a sci-fi comic-book series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples that has all the elements of a future Netflix obsession.
The tale revolves around Alana and Marko, a married couple from races that are traditional enemies, and their daughter, Hazel, who they rear against the backdrop of interstellar warfare. But rather than leaning on space-movie stereotypes, Williams and his cohorts utilize reeds (alto saxophonist/clarinetist Brad Mulholland and tenor saxophonist Eric Trudel), brass (trumpeters John Blevins and Danny Gouker, trombonists Karl Lyden and Nick Grinder), guitar (Jeff McLaughlin) and piano (Marta Sánchez). This crew is completed by acoustic bassist Adam Hopkins and secret weapon Nathan Ellman-Bell, whose inspired drumming, boldly foregrounded in the mix, powers the opus from its thrillingly punchy, cleverly arranged introduction, “An Idea (or the Horns),” to the concluding “Ignition (or Hazel),” an atmospheric coda capable of lifting spirits into the stratosphere.
If Saga actually goes before the cameras, the score will probably sound like faux-Hans Zimmer, unless the real Hans Zimmer is actually available. But the WWO’s version would be a helluva lot better.
If that was all Hazel had to offer, it would be plenty. But the opening salvo is followed by “Look Around,” an alternately quirky and rambunctious cover of a tune by the innovative indie band tUnE-yArDs, plus the adventurously free “We’ve Seen These Walls Crumble…,” the sinuously swinging “High” and “Marina,” a bonus track with a Williams solo that’s out of this world — just like the rest of Hazel.—Michael Roberts
Featured photo by Matt Hurley.