Further to Fly Reviews

Roots Music Report

Arrangements, big on multicolored layers, and first-rate jazz chart "smarts" here take the works of a wide range of progressive rockers to interesting and always fresh-sounding regions. Centered around the vocals of Lydia McAdams, this workshop/big band, led by arrangers Ralph Johnson and Ryan Fraley, recasts gems from the likes of Yes, King Crimson, Paul Simon and others as distinctive jazz outings, each ear-catching workup a standout from the last. McAdams' work displays a nice mix of underplay and jazz savvy, evidenced here on Ben Folds' Selfless, Cold and Composed and King Crimson's Heartbeat. She simmers sensuously on Suzanne Vega's Caramel, buoyed by a most simpatico brass chart. Yes vocalist Jon Anderson guests on It Will Be A Good Day (The River) and a brief solo piano take on Steely Dan's Dirty Work makes for a change-up as interesting as the primary fare of this set. Saxophonist Sylvain Carton and pianist Justin Kessler head up a crew of very respectable soloists. Further To Fly rates as one of the freshest of recent jazz releases.

~Duane Verh

Girl Singers

If it was a vinyl album, I would have worn it out by now. I'm talking about Wave Mechanics Union's first disc, Second Season, best described as a jazz take on some of the iconic progressive rock music from thirty or forty years back. I don't often take reviews to a level beyond a simple recommendation, but I've purchased a number of copies, and thrust them into the hands of friends.

I don't care what kind of music you like, I tell them. "You must listen to this."

Here we go, again.

Wave Mechanics Union - Further to Fly (HX Music) Released November 5, 2012

The group is irregular - a "recording project band" - made up of nearly 30 contributing musicians, mostly from the Indianapolis area, with arrangers (mainly Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson) who do a lot of commercial projects for "paying clients." While all parts of this remarkable unit work breathtakingly well, for me it's vocalist Lydia McAdams that draws it all together, more than just the cherry on top.

The material for this second recording is a little off the beaten path, even if the names are immediately recognizable. Case in point- the title tune, an obscure track from a forgettable Paul Simon album, if there is such a thing- 1990's follow-up to the Graceland album, The Rhythm Of The Saints, which one reviewer called not so much art as "an anthropology lesson."

As I go back and listen to Paul Simon's version, this one is better, much better.

Jon Anderson from the iconic progressive band "Yes" is involved with his favorite from the band's repitoire - It Will Be A Good Day (The River), which has become one of my favorites from this disc. Thomas Dolby - most famous for the 1983 novelty tune, She Blinded Me With Science, also wrote The Ability To Swing, covered here - and to my ear, worthy of radio play most anywhere.

If the first album got my attention through the marquee quality of the titles, this one is earning my devotion by making me respect the craftsmanship of the music.

And that brings me to Lydia McAdams. A radiator of sensuality, a vocal trip down the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset, careening through the curves at a hundred miles per hour. This is the soundtrack you hear as the helicopter follows the convertible. She not only teases the emotion out of this material, much of it emotionless to my ear in its original state - but leaves me yearning for the next track, whatever it is. She's singing Google searches? I'm in.

Plus, she uses really cool words like "grimoire." Oh, go look it up.

That voice with which she's been blessed adds the soul to these lush and finely-honed tracks that spring from the side streets, and it's that voice that demands that I listen. As good as this material and the orchestra are (and the arrangements rock/swing), without Ms. McAdams, it would all be very lush production music, suitable as bumpers on the six o'clock news.

But only the top-rated six o'clock news.

I cannot recommend this recording highly enough. Go. Buy. Listen. Now.

~Doug Boynton

All About Jazz

Rock music has been mined to the nth degree by jazz prospectors. Trumpeter Miles Davis was doing Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper a quarter century back; pianist Brad Mehldau has made Radiohead his own; jazz legend Herbie Hancock spoke of new standards by Peter Gabriel and Nirvana; and organ guru Dr. Lonnie Smith has delivered a whole platter of pleasing Beck songs. All of this might lead to the assumption that every rock vein has been stripped clean, but with Further to Fly, Wave Mechanics Union mines one or two that still contain precious ore.

This 30-piece unit, put together by a group of arrangers who wanted to write for themselves for a change, was born in 2004 under a progressive rock-turned-jazz banner. As time went by, the group continued to work in this arena, but evolved and expanded its repertoire to include music from other rock genres and sub-genres. Wave Mechanics Union's debut, Second Season (HXmusic, 2008), still spoke of progressive interests, with King Crimson, Yes, and Rush songs making the cut, but also included some classic rock fan favorites like The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again and The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby. Further To Fly goes even further afield.

For its sophomore album, Wave Mechanics Union decided to keep some favorites like King Crimson and Yes in the mix, but puts a greater emphasis on '80s and '90s entries of all stripes and colors. The album touches on jazz friendly songwriters like Ben Folds, Paul Simon and Tom Waits, as well as art-rocking strangers to jazz like Queen (The Show Must Go On). The group even brings Suzanne Vega and Fiona Apple into the picture.

Drummer Ralph Johnson, trombonist Ryan Fraley, pianist Justin Kessler and singer Lydia McAdams refashion all of this music and they do an impeccable job on their respective contributions. The Show Must Go On is a transitioning wonder, with piano, accordion, strings and a flat-out rock sound at work at various times. Vibes, bass and voice mingle with winning results on Waits' Swordfishtrombone, Vega's Caramel benefits from some sly low brass backgrounds and a walking bass line, and Selfless, Cold, And Composed comes to life as a vibrant jazz waltz.

Instrumental soloists come and go, but McAdams' vocals are the focal point on the majority of the material. She does a commendable job selling the songs in their new yet familiar packages. Former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson drops in to help out on two of that famed band's tunes, but his role is minimal in the album's grand scheme. The arrangers are the real stars here, as they use their large cast of players to create a well-polished end product.

~Dan Bilawsky

Gapplegate Guitar and Bass Blog

Sometimes you get a surprise. Sometimes you get an album that lays out so naturally you don't think how unusual it is until you've listened a couple of times. Then it hits you. The album by Wave Mechanics Union, Further to Fly (HX Music) did that to me.

It's a collaborative big band of talented arrangers, musicians, and singer Lydia McAdams. Jon Anderson of Yes makes a cameo appearance, too. They've taken some prog rock goodies and given them a big-band arranging spin. We've got 30 very good musicians here, including some string players, doing Paul Simon, Ben Folds, Suzanne Vega, Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Steely Dan and more.

The arrangements are by Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson and they are something else. "Third Stone From the Sun" for big band? Yes! The arrangements pop, the band is pretty hot and Lydia McAdams has a very charming, pretty yet subtle instrument-voice.

This is a hoot! And a great idea that comes off wonderfully well.

O's Place Jazz Newsletter

Wave Mechanics Union is a large ensemble that features vocalist/arranger Lydia McAdams. Ralph Johnson (d, perc), Justin Kessler (p) and Ryan Fraley (tb) arrange the rest of the tunes- mostly covers of pop classics. Guest vocalist Jon Anderson (from Yes) sings on two selections notably It Will Be A Good Day. McAdams shines here weaving her voice among the instruments giving many of the tunes a renewed interest. The Ability to Swing, Swordfishtrombone and The Show Must Go On are among the best.

bebop spoken here

Would you like to hear the Paul Simon song Further To Fly with a tricky latin beat, sax cutting across, sung by a sweet-voiced woman who knows how to express the lyrics? Or King Crimson's Heartbeat, with fully explored rhythms on the bassoon; or Tom Wait's Swordfishtrombone, a wonderfully witty black comedy narrative about a war veteran? These and many other delights await you on this CD. Then there's the saxophone solo on a jazz version of Wondrous Stories; the catchy melody of Mark Knopler's Your Latest Trick; or Slow Like Honey, played with additional strings which flow down the tune, just like honey.

This CD came about as a project by two arrangers, Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson, who are usually up for hire by clients. They decided that they would hire the musicians instead so that they could work in collaboration, arranging progressive rock and pop classics in a jazz style, and the result is this very listenable CD. Most tracks involve vocals by Lydia McAdams, giving us sensitive interpretations of the songs, and guest vocalist Jon Anderson of rock group Yes. Each track was chosen by a musician involved in the project, and their comments quoted in the CD notes show a deep understanding of the music, for instance, about Further To Fly, "I was attracted to the unusual and clever syncopations in Further To Fly".

The CD is good value, 14 tracks lasting just over an hour, with a well thought out order of songs, beginning with Further To Fly, which this group of musicians surely has, and rounding off with the Queen number The Show Must Go On, in which the singer builds up the emotion without going over the top. It was difficult not to shed a tear when listening to this song, about the basic loneliness of being a performer. I predict that the show will go on for Wave Mechanics Union.

To see a slideshow of photos and names of the 30 or so musicians involved, go to the website www.progjazz.com Highly recommended that you have a look. Wave Mechanics Union: Further To Fly was issued late last year on the HX Music LLC label.

~Ann Alex

This is Books Music

Wave Mechanics Union are a band who make successful attempts in stretching the boundaries of jazz, by tapping into songs that are very much not in the jazz and pop standard songbook. For me, that's a big deal because while I love jazz and pop standards, I get excitement when I see someone going out of the expected norm. Musically, this is very much big band and orchestral jazz with a few liberties here and there, but for the most part this is not what one would expect from material like this.

Paul Simon's Further To Fly enhances its Latin rhythms to get into something that is sure to make its listeners dance, while Ben Folds' Selfless, Cold And Composed is now filled with a massive brass section. Sherman Hemsley's favorite band, Gentle Giant, gets the jazz treatment with a great cover of Think Of Me With Kindness, and considering their own musical roots and heritage, perhaps it's fitting that the song has turned into what Wave Mechanics Union have created. Even Thomas Dolby fits into the picture when his The Ability To Swing is embraced with kindness, and it's nice to hear it in this fashion. Vocalist Lydia McAdams has an Amel Larrieux vibe to her, where she wraps everything around the mood and lyrics and takes them to her heart to make them her own.

Former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson participates by doing background vocals on a track from Yes' Going For The One album, Wonderous Stories, and handling co-lead on It Will Be a Good Day (The River) (from the 1999 album The Ladder). Anderson sounds great and it's also nice to hear him sing in a different context than normally expected.

Along with tracks originally performed by Tom Waits, Steely Dan, King Crimson, Jimi Hendrix, Fiona Apple, Queen, Dire Straits, and Suzanne Vega, Further To Fly (HX Music) has Wave Machines Union allowing each song to go where it never traveled to before, thus freeing them like a bird so that each may find a new place to see and experience.

~John Book


Formed eight years ago by several jazz arrangers who wanted to do things their own way, this "band" creates big, lushly orchestrated musical creations. The material on their second release consists of covers of pop tunes from the likes of Paul Simon, Fiona Apple, Tom Waits, Thomas Dolby, and Ben Folds. My favorite cut is a boisterous and unpredictable cover of Jimi Hendrix's Third Stone from The Sun. Sound quality is also excellent; even during the boisterous passages the sonics are still suave.

Rating (0- 10): Overall - 8, Sonically - 9

~Steven Stone

Straight No Chaser

As a child of the 1970's, progressive rock was a big part of my musical life. Bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer were huge at that time, much to the chagrin of rock purists and my father, who thought they butchered classical music. I have fond memories of seeing ELP at the Hartford Civic Center on their "Works" tour, just after they let go the symphony orchestra previously being schlepped on tour with them.

Ryan Fraley is a bit more than a decade younger than me, but his early record collection included many of the "prog rock" masterpieces from the 1970's. In a move that brings together his early exposure to that music with his strength as a jazz arranger and performer, he has helped create the Wave Mechanics Union, a group of jazz musicians who create large ensemble arrangements of songs from the prime days of Gentle Giant, Yes and King Crimson.

Further to Fly is their second CD, following the highly enjoyable Second Season. Rather than stay only with re-imaginings of rock groups, theUnion has added a touch of singer-songwriter to their list, creating new and exciting opportunities for the core members of the group to reinterpret songs they love. Apparently they are doing a good job, as no less a figure than Jon Anderson, the lead singer of Yes, asked to join them for two tracks on the new CD.

~Jeffrey Siegel

Midwest Record

Two jazzbo arrangers with a love for 70s prog rock wonder what would happen if they gave big band voice to their old faves. The result was so offbeat, because you wouldn't expect an endeavor like this to be down the middle, that it attracted Jon Anderson to hang out for a few songs. These kind of mash ups simply work or don't but this one is a do, especially if you have gleefully left-of-center tastes that revel in not acknowledging limitations or boundaries. This works well because you almost don't recognize the originals once this crew gets done with them and all baggage is left at the door. A great example of non-hipster, college kid jazz, this should remind the student that big band doesn't have to mean half time marching band. Fun stuff that works well.

~Chris Spector

The Borderland (UK)

I reviewed Wave Mechanics Union's first album some time ago and was very impressed by its taking Prog Rock and Rock/Pop classics and giving them a big band jazz workout. Further To Fly is more of the same, but the selection of music is perhaps a little more subtle, widening the net beyond Prog Rock to include Roots and Americana artists. Check out these names for coolness: Paul Simon, Ben Folds, Suzanne Vega, Yes, King Crimson, Thomas Dolby, Gentle Giant, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Fiona Apple, Mark Knopfler, Steely Dan, and Queen. That is quite a wide framework of artists to draw from, yet Wave Mechanics Union take the task head on, creating a variety of moods with their versions. Instead of full on big band blow-outs most of the arrangements are quite mellow, with a Latin twist and concentrating on the mellifluous vocals of Lydia McAdams, plus in something of a coup Yes vocalist Jon Anderson also guests on their covers of his songs. Further To Fly contains fourteen tracks, the listing goes like this: Further To Fly, Selfless Cold And Composed, Caramel, Wondrous Stories, Heartbeat, It Will Be A Good Day (The River), The Ability To Swing, Think Of Me With Kindness, Swordfishtrombone, Third Stone From The Sun, Slow Like Honey, Your Latest Trick, Dirty Work, The Show Must Go On. There are far too many musicians to list here but the musicianship and the arrangements are exemplary throughout and this is an album well worth seeking out if you have a musically adventurous soul. Recommended.

Improvijazzation Nation

These folks got a good rating from me back in issue # 87, but on this round of 14 heavy & full-bodied jazz tunes, they have impressed me mightily. Tunes like their rendition of Thomas Dolby's The Ability To Swing are what does it for me - a sneaky, down under bass leading what I call an "alley-cat vocal set" make you feel like you OWN that danged alley! Everything about this group screams TOO COOL! 'course, if you want chamber, or something more "standard," you might find yourself disagreeing with me (& that's OK, too).. but I truly DIG what they've created here! My personal favorite was Swordfishtrombone, probably because it was originally done by Tom Waits, & Lydia McAdams just KICKS IT on this one! I give WMU a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, with an "EQ" (energy quotient) rating of 4.99.

Critical Jazz

Retro cover art...Gotta dig it. Sometimes in reviewing Independent artists you take on the role of musical prospector sifting through the sonic sand and silt of about 19 "decent" releases before finding that gold nugget and in this case an iconic singer seemingly having been hiding out in plain site and not someone normally associated with the jazz genre.

Jon Anderson from the iconic art rock super group - YES!

Wave Mechanics Union releases Further to Fly on November 27, 2012. A couple of arrangers decided to free themselves from the shackles of the major label pressures associated with the industries and essentially bet on themselves. Free from the constraints of client and label restrictions they have chosen some of their favorites from the progressive rock area where of course Jon Anderson could easily be considered a founding father, the Jeff Lorber of arena rock if you will. From this progressive ground zero there came a natural expansion into tunes that cool, memorable lyrics with simple, unadorned melodies that take to jazz sensibilities like a duck to water with the end result Further to Fly.

The first, if not most logical question, is how has Anderson's voice held up over the years? On the YES classic Wonderous Stories, Anderson helps take the trademark harmonic progression to another dimension with a voice that has improved with age and if anything the subtle nuances in Anderson's voice are far more emotional and distinctive in this organic setting as opposed to the more over the top stadium sound YES is more famous for. The reharm includes a beautiful soprano solo and is reinvented with a bright and breezy feel to make a classic seem like a new present on Christmas morning. Never having been a Ben Folds fan there were certain misgivings with Selfless, Cold and Composed and these were quickly blown away with a deceptively subtle swing and impeccable vocals by Lydia McAdams who again reinvents a tune and places her own indelible stamp on a number some may not be familiar with. Better than the original? Yes. This tune makes a perfect transition to a more whimsical, light-hearted jazz waltz with a band that understands the lyrical sense of purpose behind the original and simply lifts the melancholy lyrics to a more elegant sense of swing. A stroke of genius. The Dire Straits number Your Latest Trick is simply a musical landmine waiting to be stepped on. Well, wrong again...The jazz angst and and angular development of this bittersweet tune are embraced by McAdams with an elegance and grace not often found from a "jazz" singer attempting to pull off a cover of this nature and here is where the release works in spades.

Rootstime (Netherlands)

Het is natuurlijk relatief, maar "progressiever" qua aanpak is "Further To Fly" van Wave Mechanics Union, een erg uitgebreid, zuiver akoestisch collectief, met als gezicht en eenheidsfactor zangeres Lydia McAdams. Zij bezit een opvallend, enigszins slepend stemgeluid dat een natuurlijke melancholie ademt. Vanuit het oogpunt van de muziek van rock en roots is dit de boeiendste plaat, met uitgemeten, afwisselende arrangementen van, in hoofdzaak, percussionist Ralph Johnson of trombonist Ryan Fahey (zij tekenden ook voor de productie, samen met McAdams) De verwerking is boeiend, ook omdat men opteerde voor (niet altijd even bekend) songmateriaal van Paul Simon (het titelnummer), Ben Folds, Suzanne Vega, King Crimson, Thomas Dolby, Gentle Giant, Tom Waits, Jimi Hendrix, Fiona Apple, Mark Knopfler, Steely Dan en Queen. Twee nummers komen van de schatkist van Yes en men wist Yeszanger Jon Anderson te strikken voor deze songs, waaronder "Wonderous Stories". Er is een korte, maar verhelderende "rechtvaardiging" van elke songkeuze. De solo piano uitvoering van "Dirty Work" van Becker-Fagen door Justin Kessler is een buitenbeentje.

~Antoine Legat


South Florida's loving Wave Mechanics Union; the tunes bring a smile and you could drown in Lydia McAdams' voice.

~Tracy Fields


There are so many great tracks, I can't decide which one to pick first!

~Larissa Hale

XM/Sirius Real Jazz

What a record. This is Grammy worthy stuff!

~Mark Ruffin


I played Think of Me with Kindness this past Saturday. What a stunning surprise to find an old Gentle Giant favorite on a jazz record! Blew me away. Terrific arrangement.

~Jack Hopke


Love the new Wave Mechanics Union recording-I'm not a huge fan of pop music or classic rock, but with their interesting (and outstanding) arrangements, including very colorful orchestrations, they've hit a home run with both of their CD's. Numerous positive comments on air, and I've played "Second Season" (previous recording) during intermission at concerts and other events and always have people commenting (positively!) on the tunes.

~Dale Riegle


I'm digging Wave Mechanics Union

~Gene Abkarian


Album of the Year

~Dr. Mike Matheny