When Frank Zappa needed someone to arrange and transcribe music for him he called upon Steve Vai and Mike Keneally. When THEY needed some music transcribed and arranged they called upon Chris Opperman. If that doesn’t speak volumes about his talent and integrity I don’t know what does.
People love to categorize music, give it names, titles…they love to pigeon-hole things to fit into neat little boxes so their ears can be prepared for what’s about to happen. Attempting to do this with Opperman’s music will just give you a headache. If you need to call it something, call it Music with a capital M and be done with it.
The Lionheart begins with the solo piano piece ‘Haasis’ which tumbles and cascades out of the speakers like an audio waterfall. You think you know what you’re in for until track two starts and there are drums. Drums and a guitar? But I thought this was going to be a snobby 20th Century Classical kinda thing? Remember what I said before about categorizing? Yeah well stop it. Just to drive that point home the piano explodes into a Cecil Taylor-ish cacophony which desolves into a faux metal chug with a sax solo, ‘Beware of the Random Factor’ indeed.
‘Miles Behind’ is dedicated to Miles Davis and flows lyrically with flute and violin solos, neither of which are instruments one associates with the cool darkness of Miles. By the time we get to ‘Gen-Ebulous’ there seems to be a compositional pattern of well patterns, repetitive patterns. Repeating backgrounds with other contrapuntal patterns lying over them, they almost come across as rhythmic exercises. The clarinet sound here is special; I think it’s a highly underused instrument in any genre.
‘Johanna’ begins with solo piano line and adds a linear cello line before going vertical and creating big dark chords reminiscent of my favorite Finnish Avant Jazz group Alamaailman Vasarat. Coming out of the darkness like a soaring bird is a joyous almost Brian May like guitar solo. ‘Knight of Winter’s Day’ is another solo piano showcase. I especially like the very brief bits of dissonance sprinkled throughout the piece. Man can play piano.
I first heard of Chris Opperman through the music of Mike Keneally so it’s fitting that Keneally makes a guest appearance here on ‘White Willow’ with some intertwining guitar solos and improvisational deliciousness. Probably one of the most fun tracks on the album, sit back and let it rock.
Just when you thought you’d heard it all, ‘Idaho Potato’ adds vocals from Kat Parsons…and is that a dobro? Why yes it is.
The big compositional showstopper ‘The Porpentine’ rounds out the record and it’s here where you can start to really hear Chris’ love for the music of Frank Zappa. It contains elements of Zappa’s ‘Strictly Genteel’ and has that majestic blend of rock guitar against arranged horns that was featured on the 1988 tour. I’d like to hear of Opperman’s music performed with this orchestration because it has so much depth and character.
The Lionheart is self released on Opperman’s Purple Cow Records and features cover art by Eisner-award winner Mark Buckingham (Fables, Marvelman) and was mixed and mastered by Grammy-award winning engineer Neil Citron. You can purchase it via CD Baby at the link below. Be sure to check out Chris’ site and also those of the other featured players….or else!