Second Season Reviews

All About Jazz

One of the most unusual jazz albums to burst on to the scene has to be Second Season, from the Wave Mechanics Union, a creative collaboration formed by trombonist Ryan Fraley, drummer Ralph Johnson, and vocalist Lydia McAdams. Though billed as a jazz recording, the origins of the music are taken from the progressive and classical rock genres. The music is tastefully restated with jazzed up arrangements and performed by a modern big band lending a new and jazzy read to songs from legendary rock bands such as The Who, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Yes.

Unlike standard jazz recordings that focus on traditional melodies and re-record worn out standards drawn from this rich American jazz heritage, the repertoire here takes selected rock tunes that have been around for decades, after all, rock music is now more than fifty years old. Supported by a cast of twenty musicians, plus a string quartet, McAdams is well accompanied on eight vocal tunes, opening the disc with Peter Townsend's "Won't Get Fooled Again," backed up by lively woodwinds and a splendid piano solo from Justin Kessler on a song that rumbles on quite well.

Arranged by Fraley, one of Led Zeppelin's signature tunes "The Rain Song," is given an even more mellow treatment than Robert Plant and Jimmy Page originally delivered featuring tender play from Don Smith on the flugelhorn. McAdams turns in a formidable performance on other vocal number like on "Available Light," a song from the Rush repertoire, and on Sting's light ballad piece "Why Should I Cry For You."

Not all of the selection are vocals, there are two fine instrumentals and they begin with a very jazzy interpretation of Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig In The Sky," led by Robert Stright on vibes; and The Beatles "Eleanor Rigby." John Lennon would be pleased with what Ralph Johnson does on the latter tune, refining the music and transforming the tune into a classical number that employs the strings and the full measure of the band's powerful play.

Second Season offers something brash and new that breaks the mold for standard jazz providing a revved up big band flavor to progressive and classical rock. The perfect album for those who still appreciate the sounds of rock music, but who now prefer the embrace of the more mature music of jazz, with this recording, it is quite possible that one can have the best of both worlds.

-Edward Blanco


"Real, full-bodied, intelligent, contemporary, big band efforts... W.M.U.'s version of the 1972 Yes gem Heart of the Sunrise really knocked me flat. That's a very difficult song to cover as it is so ever-shifting, lengthy and busy."

-Jenifre Tarkus Kayoa-Benaqeraj

WCVE Public Radio

Adventurous disc! Second Season in my top 5 discs this year.

-George Maida
producer The Electric Croude


"Second Season by Wave Mechanics Union is one of the most fun and solid discs I've heard this year and in a long time. The group covers 'Progressive & Classic Rock as Jazz'. The arrangements are superb, the song selection's brilliant, the musicianship top shelf and the vocals by Lydia McAdams right in the pocket. ...for me, "Second Season" hits everything right on the money.

-Russell Haines


"I've been trying to wrestle the Wave Mechanics Union version of Killer Queen out of my head for a week now and can't. That CD has prompted some fun calls. Try it if you're that way inclined."

-David Beckett


Has anyone had a chance to really listen to this CD? Very interesting on different fronts. The concept of taking rock material and arranging for jazz isn't new but what they do here in my opinion... on several tracks... is outstanding. Totally fresh and forward thinking arrangements on these rock mainstays. We will play four...The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," Zeppelin's "The Rain Song"(Wonderful arrangement) King Crimson's "Elephant Talk" and the Yes classic "Heart Of the Sunrise." It will make for fascinating jazz radio IMO. Certainly check it out.

-Jae Sinnett

CFRO (Canada)

I've been really taken with the Wave Mechanics Union, an outfit based out of Indianapolis who do large ensemble jazz arrangements of progressive rock and classic rock tunes. I've long been interested in the idea of the 'new standards', in which new generations of jazz musicians draw on music of their (our!) time rather than recycling the great American song book again and again. (viz. Brad Mehldau with Radiohead, Nick Drake; The Bad Plus with Nirvana, David Bowie; everybody with Joni Mitchell) I think it's a little ironic that aging rockers turn to the standards book for some late career credibility when folks like the Wave Mechanics Union are making some great music, having a blast and drawing a new audience into the music. They obviously love these tunes and have the chops to re-interpret and make them fresh.

Touched on the tunes by the Who and Yes but the title is taken from Led Zepp's The Rain Song which is covered nicely as well. The intricate arrangement and rhythms on Heart of the Sunrise is a real standout. ...Highly recommended.

-Nou Dadoun


"This recent CD has some cool stuff. ...The version of King Crimson's "Elephant Talk" kicks some serious butt; Ralph Johnson's spoken-word vocal on this one reminds me a bit of William S. Burroughs."

-Bill Barton


"...these songs sound surprisingly good with Jazz instrumentation like Pink Floyd's "Great Gig In The Sky" flying on a vibes-led rhythm and King Crimson's "Elephant Talk" sounding sharp with frisky horn gymnastics."

WAVE MECHANICS UNION/Second Season: A core trio rounds up a boat load of pals to masquerade as a jazz big band and turns a bunch of AOR rock staples on their heads bringing it back as jazz that Shorty Rogers might have turned out in his day. A crew that loves to throw curve balls fast and furiously (calling their debut "Second Season" for example), this set asks you to throw linearity to the wind and follow the muse. Fun stuff that opens the ears in a new way, aging boomers looking for a segue from rock to jazz as they mature in their tastes might find this the portal they've been looking for.

O's Place Jazz Newsletter

Wave Mechanics Union - Second Season 3/4
O's Notes: Lydia McAdams (vocals), Ralph Johnson (d) and Ryan Fraley (tb) lead a large ensemble through a set that lives up to it's billing of progressive and classic rock transformed into jazz. The program includes songs written by The Who, Rush, The Police, Pink Floyd, Yes and The Beatles. The arrangements are well done, especially "The Rain Song" featuring Don Smith on flugelhorn and "The Great Gig In The Sky" with Robert Stright on vibes. McAdams does a great job on the mic on eight if the eleven tracks. If you didn't know the songs, you may not recognize their rock heritage! The result is a very listenable collection that will have broad appeal.

-D. Oscar Groomes

Luna Kafe record review

Wave Mechanics Union is Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson with singer Lydia McAdams and various guest musicians. Their debut album sees them do progressive and rock songs as jazz.

The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" gets a suave Latin treatment that actually works and shows off McAdams' impressive vocals well. Led Zeppelin's "Rain Song" gets a soft reading where McAdams' lovely vocals play well off the sophisticated instrumentation. "Eleanor Rigby" in this version gets an unusual but fresh spin with a big band arrangement. It sounds good and does the original justice.

"Istanbul (not Constantinople)" has nods to both the jazz original and the quirky cover by They Might be Giants. The cool vocal lead is handled well. This is a very impressive record proving great songs can be treated many ways.

-Anna Maria Stjarnell

Best Indie Music Out There (Blog)

This cd was a GREAT surprise! ...blowing the lid off the conventions we associate with prog - which is the whole point of prog in the first place. Congrats for doing that! There are music people taking prog and its "rules" too seriously, and it's about time someone bent this steal into new playground material.

-Ben Ohmart (UK)

It's a notion I've kicked around for some time. Weren't the songs we call "standards" simply popular music when they were written? Many may aspire to write songs for the ages, but which do we still listen to? Here are two from 1974 that both topped the pop chart - "I Shot The Sheriff," by Eric Clapton, and Bo Donaldson's "Billy, Don't Be A Hero." You're still listening to one of them, right?

So which will we still be listening to thirty, forty or fifty years from now? At her website, Robin McKelle writes of her decision to record Steve Miller's 1982 hit "Abracadabra" on her latest album: "I was coming home from a gig one night and I heard that song, and the idea popped into my head. I turned up the radio and thought, this could be great as a swing tune!"

Led Zep as the "Music of Your Life?" Yeah, it's time.

The anonymous liner notes say, "those who grew up post-Beatles will never be immune from the influence of rock music." So we're eight bars into the first track, and I'm locked in. I'm thinking - okay, this is "Won't Get Fooled Again," and it sounds so familiar, that I know exactly where it's going to go, "Bomp-bom"
Oh. Wait. We're off in a new direction. The Lydia McAdams vocal begins, and yes - it all sounds so familiar, yet so different - syncopated and Latin and swingy - and yet.

And yet - all the touchstones are there. You know this music. Hell, I lived this music. This is my music.

"Killer Queen" with a big band? Yeah, you've got to hear it. I played Led Zep's "The Rain Song" back to back with this version. Seamless. It simply sounds like the song went in a different direction - one that's a little more modern.

Lydia McAdams is the vocalist of this talented pack, and I don't know where she's been - but I get the impression she's going somewhere important. She handles this material with confidence - nailing each of the vocals, whether the high energy "Killer Queen," or one of my favorites, Sting's cool groove, "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da."

Also in high rotation on my iPod, a nod to the old with 1953's "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)," the 1990 remake of which by "They Might Be Giants" escaped me.

Highest recommendation for this disc - I dare you to go listen, and tell me you're not hooked. Even the instrumental "Eleanor Rigby" has me hooked.

Big band jazz for aging baby boomers? Hell no.

For everybody.

Moving classic rock and progressive rock into the world of jazz and big bands is a very risky proposition. More often than not the results of those who try to cross genres end up sounding like you have just entered into an elevator going up to the 13th floor of nowhere. Many have tried to link jazz and rock, but few have succeeded as well as Wave Mechanics Union has. Second Season is a stunning (here is the big word for today) re-conceptualization of rock warhorses like Won't Get Fooled Again, Killer Queen, The Rain Song and Eleanor Rigby. They also cover songs by Rush, They Might Be Giants, Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Why did WMU succeed where so many others have failed?

First, they choose songs that were strong to begin with. Lydia McAdams, Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson, the forces behind this release, know that in order to build something new and exciting you have to have a strong foundation. They assembled a song list that gave them room to move in as well as the opportunity to find something new. Secondly, they created arrangements that defy listener's expectations instead of following the familiar. Lastly, they clearly love what they are doing.

Opening with a cut as well known as Won't Get Fooled Again says a lot about the musical crew at hand. By choosing a song that almost everyone of us have heard a thousand or more times, a song that holds almost a DNA-level of familiarity, they immediately challenge the listener's pre-conceptions. It is almost as if they are daring themselves to fail and get right on the elevator to nowhere.

They don't fail. On any level. The song opens with the traditional burst but quickly takes the familiar synthesizer line and messes it up. Woodwinds and horns are bouncing back and forth. They quickly descend into a simple piano line which encapsulates the melody we are all so used to. Within one minute the song is torn apart and put back together in front of our ears.

As the vocalist, McAdams moves from the original's defiant and anthemic tone to a meditation on the certainty of purpose. Instead of closing the verses with a scream, she moves into a slight dream world that is in marked contrast to the forward motion of the rest of the arrangement. The music seems to pause, and than decides to follow her.

Nowhere is this more clear than on the famous "hypnotized never lie" lyric of the middle eight. Right after she trails off, the confusion of the song is reflected in a fractured arrangement that relies on muted trumpets that than open into a piano-led late night nightclub swing. Near the end, as the song dips into the famous synthesizer swirl of Daltrey stomping inside lasers and clouds, WMU return to woodwinds and horns to as the drums kick everything back into the opening dance.

WMU is never forced nor impossible to understand. They want us to go with them. Sometimes prog or jazz can leave the listener behind or confused; feeling out of step with the musicians. WMU never gets close to loosing us. What they are recreating stays within familiar musical reference points. Their arrangement of Killer Queen wouldn't be out of place on a Broadway Stage in 1954 or as the perfect introduction to a radio play based on a Dashiell Hammett short story.

WMU's version of The Rain Song is the most beautiful and intimate arrangement of a Led Zeppelin song you could ever imagine. Vocalist McAdams' take on the lyrics makes time stand still. As it begins you can see your reflection in the puddles on the street as you walk down fifth avenue nursing a heartbreak while looking out of the corner of your eye for a quiet bar. A little more than five minutes in the arrangement shifts gears with the new season and moves a touch faster. After a minute McAdams declares "these are the seasons of emotion and like the wind they will rise and fall" and the music mirrors her emotion by slowing down in tune with the reflective nature of Plant's lyrics.

Amazingly WMU takes King Crimson's Elephant Talk and mimics the feeling of a clumsy elephant moving across the stage. Their arrangement brings to mind the music created by Carl Stalling for Warner Brothers animation or what Scott Bradley did for Tex Avery and Tom and Jerry cartoons. A dozen different instruments pop in and out as a horn line bursts though with the kinetic nature of the song itself. By slowing the original beat of the song down just a bit, WMU allows the listener to walk with them where Crimson's original demanded that you fly as fast as the band was moving.

When most bands decide to use a bullhorn effect on their vocals they sound like imitations of Tom Waits or drunk frat boys. When WMU introduces the sound on Elephant Talk it turns Adrian Belew's hyper-drive free-associative alliteration into a 1967 FM Disc Jockey trying to play with listener's heads on a late night San Francisco radio station at 3:30 AM.

The core three of McAdams, Fraley and Johnson are joined by over 25 other musicians but they never let technique or fancy-pants showing off interfere with the greatest strength of the release, good songs expanded by great musicians. This is a wonderful CD that will remind listeners what excited them about prog and jazz in the first place as well as challenge other listeners with the reconstruction of the familiar.

-Mark Squirek

Borderland (UK)

Wave Mechanics Union - Second Season (HX Music) Subtitled "Progressive and Classic Rock as Jazz", this album may seem to be groundbreaking stuff, but the use of a jazz big band playing rock has been done before, most notably by a British studio band called CCS with Alexis Korner on vocals back in the late 70s and early 80s, and currently here in the UK by the Jools Holland Rhythm and Blues Orchestra. But I have never heard an American jazz band do something similar. That aside, this is quite a strong collection of prog and classic rock tracks given a big band treatment. Based around the core of vocalist Lydia McAdams and musicians Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson, alongside a very large band providing lush and very polished support.

There are eleven tracks taken from the songbooks of The Who [Won't Get Fooled Again], Queen [Killer Queen], Led Zep [The Rain Song], Pink Floyd [Great Gig In The Sky], Rush [Available Light], The Police and Sting [De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da Da and Why Should I cry For You], Beatles [Eleanor Rigby], King Crimson [Elephant Talk], plus a couple of original songs.

Most of the overblown pomp and bombast on the original tracks have been rejected and replaced by a late night smoothness. And in turn this has actually revealed the true musicality of the originals, often hidden away behind the pretentiousness of the original musicians. The treatments here are certainly glossy and late night radio friendly, and this is a very enjoyable and listenable album, well worth seeking out if you like the sound of a big band.

Metro Spirit

Those in search of some adventurous sounds could do well by picking up the latest by Wave Mechanics Union. With a full-scale jazz orchestra, Wave Mechanics Union offers a stunning display of the power of classic and progressive rock n roll bleeding through the soul of stylish jazz.

Built on a smooth section of rhythmic force, this record propels listeners through the worlds of music at a phenomenal pace. A creative collaboration formed by composers Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson along with vocalist Lydia McAdams, Wave Mechanics Union is propulsion of sound and melody vibrating throughout space.

Particular highlights include an amazing cover of Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky," a powerful melody-infused rendition "The Rain Song," and the smashing, high-spirited powerhouse "Killer Queen." Within this transformative sound, songs from the likes of Rush, Yes and even Sting find new life and newly inspired spirits. Furthermore, the record itself is worth having simply to hear what may well be a better than the original tour de force in the form of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again."

In a beautiful infusion of talent, the classics are reborn in the power of Wave Mechanics Union.

-J. Edward Sumerau

Second Season: Progressive and Classic Rock as Jazz, a new CD released on October 1, 2008 by Wave Mechanics Union, interprets the works of classic rock and progressive bands Yes, Rush, The Who, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, The Police and Led Zeppelin, to name a few, and gives them the ultimate jazz makeover.

Assembled from almost 30 musicians from Indianapolis, Nashville and Los Angeles, this project is absolutely top notch. When I closed my eyes, I swear I could hear the smooth and silky stylings of Ella Fitzgerald with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Vocalist Lydia McAdams exemplifies the very essence of jazz singing and the arrangements of Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson left me speechless in how they transformed guitar, bass, keyboards and drums into a full jazz orchestra.

I played this CD recently at a cocktail party and turned the volume up just enough so that other guests could just barely hear the vocals. I stood back in the corner to watch the reaction and was amazed. Between the people mouthing the words, to the giggles, to the heads turning to the toetapping, everyone in the room could not believe what they heard. Aside from the popularity of the original tracks, these new arrangements easily caught the attention of the party guests.

Here's a collection of fresh and modern jazz arrangements on 11 classic rock tunes. The selections are familiar tunes from 11 different bands...The Who, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Rush, The Police, Beatles, Sting, King Crimson, They Might Be Giants, and Yes. The jazz versions take nothing away from the originals...the melodies are just as familiar as in the original recordings...but there's a whole new level of jazz instrumentation with brass and reeds, cool and more complex jazz rhythms, and soaring vocals. The album is a very creative treatment on some already great tunes. So if you like your cool jazz...and, hey, you also like classic're gonna love this album!

Run-Off Groove #225

Second Season (HX Music), the title of which is taken from Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song" (covered here in an excellent arrangement), gives these classic songs a fresh set of clothes to change into, not only showing their love of the material but also how fine these musicians are. Wave Mechanics Union are a trio that collaborate with a wide range of musicians, including horn players and a string quartet so their sound is full and rich to the point of no return. ...To have [these songs] performed with a woman singing them is a welcome chance, especially upon hearing the war chestnut "Won't Get Fooled Again" (The Who) or "Killer Queen" (Queen). They even get into Rush's "Available Night" to where you might not even recognize it as a Rush song. For those who were raised on these songs, the jazzy approach may sound like something Norah Jones would be comfortable in doing, but McAdams voice is stronger and perhaps more comforting. One of the album's defining moments has to be their cover of Yes' "Heart Of The Sunrise", which truly sounds like something youd hear on a high school band album if high school bands were this cool and skilled. Screw the Airmen Of Note, this is Wave Mechanics Union!

Some songs are given the instrumental treatment. The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" features an arrangement that makes it sound like something you'd hear on a Stan Kenton (who is referred to in the liner notes) or Johnny Harris album, while Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig In The Sky" could have been destroyed if the upbeat (!!!) arrangement featured vocals and fortunately it doesn't.

It's a jazz album with a twist, one that is actually good without it being predictable.

-John Book

The Star Press

They call it progressive or "prog" jazz. And trust me, you have never heard versions like this of songs by The Who, They Might Be Giants, Led Zeppelin, The Police and Queen. I loved the loungy feel of Killer Queen. And Zeppelin's Rain Song would have been a perfect fit for one of those 1970s sappy love story flicks. McAdams's voice fits with every re-invention of these tunes, even De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da. The arrangements and the players are top notch. They must have had a blast recording this thing.

As a listener, it's a fun ride, from the first track to the last.

-Michelle Kinsey

Musical Performance (4 out of 5)
Sound Quality (3.5 out of 5)
Overall Enjoyment (4 out of 5)

Halfway through Wave Mechanics Union's arrangement of the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," I thought there was a good chance my reaction to the rest of Second Season, the band's collection of jazz interpretations of rock tunes, would be tepid. But after hearing their takes on Queen's "Killer Queen" and Led Zeppelin's "The Rain Song," I was warming up to the disc, and by the end I was charmed. The arrangements, by drummer Ralph Johnson and trombonist Ryan Fraley, are witty and well thought out, and the song choices are attractively unpredictable; only "Eleanor Rigby" is hackneyed. King Crimson's "Elephant Walk" retains its swaggering sense of fun while swinging hard, and "The Great Gig in the Sky" sounds as it might have if Pink Floyd had been drinking martinis instead of taking something heavier. Singer Lydia McAdams is a delight throughout, approaching each song with freshness and passion. The recording, by Fraley and Johnson, clearly separates the sections of the band in the large-ensemble tracks, and seems a bit crowded only on the Police's "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da." I would have brought McAdams' voice a bit more forward in the mix, but overall, the recording sounds remarkably good. I even found myself liking "Won't Get Fooled Again."

-Joseph Taylor

ImproviJAZZation Nation (Blog)

It's not often I find myself so strongly attracted to rockers playing jazz... 30 (or more) of them, in fact, with vocalist Lydia McAdams out in front... the talent is audible in the immediate, and you'll surely be as impressed as I was with the skill shown!

Progressive rock tuneage from the likes of Sting ("Why Should I Cry for You?"), the Beatles ("Eleanor Rigby"), Peter Townsend ("Won't Get Fooled Again") & Jimmy Page ("The Rain Song"), just to name a few... it's Sting's "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" that wins me over to the Wave Mechanics Union, though... absolutely my favorite tune on the album. The Rhodes/electric piano & convoluted rhythm shifts on "Elephant Talk" (by Adrian Belew; Bill Bruford; Robert Fripp & Tony Levin) comes in a very close second, though!

An absolutely smashing debut CD that will keep your mind moving in all different directions... gets a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me!

LCR Radio (Loughbrough, UK)

"Excellent. Your album took very little time to grow on me and expect more airtime."

-Dick Heath

"Let's hear it for Swing Crimson!"