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CD REVIEW: Helix Collective - World Dance Club
By Dan Cohen - 09/30/2013 - 05:44 PM EDT

Artist: Band: Helix Collective
Album: World Dance Club
Genre: modieval dance mash-up
Sounds Like: Paul Winter Consort meets Dirty Projectors
Technical Grade: 8/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 10/10
Best Songs: Dance #1, Dance #3, Me Quema, Waltz
CD Review:

Buckle your seatbelts, classical music fans, it's going to be a bumpy flight. And about time!
Crazy classical fusion. That's what they call it. If you've been wondering, (as we all do on occasion), 'hey, what's happened to all the oboe/flute dance bands?', look no further. Your prayers have been answered! Helix Collective creates compelling, insistent, thoroughly modern music with a resolutely acoustic (even proudly classical) band of kick-ass outsider oboe, flute, piano, and drum virtuosi.

I don't even know where to start with this album. Usually instrumental albums (and vocal ones, for that matter) fit into a clearly defined genre, or cross between one or two. Jazz/Pop. Rock. Folk/Punk. Classical Crossover. This one just does it's own thing. And that thing is unique. It has an early music feel at times, but then there's that drum kit poking in, not sounding at all medieval, in fact occasionally sounding like he wandered in from a Metallica rehearsal. And the aggressive yet nuanced playing give this album a sound, indeed a genre, all its own.

But it's not random at all. The pieces, all of them, are very consciously composed, and well-composed at that. They have an arc to them, go somewhere. And they're just full of surprises. A fabulous samba (Me Quena) with the ostinato laid down by a fly-ass english horn. Who knew? A mysterious, Webern-esque introduction in Dance #1 leads to a funky trance like dance groove. Only a few of the pieces are written by band members. Most are by film and opera composers on their 'day off', so to speak. Mark Wieser's Dance # 1 is followed (not in order, alas) by two others from his Three Bollywood Dances. A curious Rag by Stephen Danker seems to explode in all directions at once, but gently, like Tinkerbell spreading mad fairy dust. Danker is also represented by a tender Waltz played with surpassing tenderness by Phil Popham on oboe (english horn?) and Sarah Robinson on flute. There's a fiendishly difficult oboe part in Tom, a country melody that would usually be played by a quick-pickin' guitar hero. But oboist Phil Popham forges fearlessly on. Rafael Liebich is the sensitive and atmospheric pianist. And Lorry Aaron Black's percussion is amazing,. Hes got a fabulous, generous, varied pocket, and his playing gives the album its unique, this-aint-yer-mama's-classical-music feel. Helix Collective has no shame and no boundaries. God love em! Bluegrass to Samba, this band covers the waterfront, with glee and gusto and the sheer exuberant joy evident in every note. Bravo, bravo, arcibravo!

A few minor notes: the album suffers at times from the lack of a bass (acoustic or otherwise), and drums feel like they were recorded in a barn whereas the rest of the band was in a studio. They can sound a little boomy at times. And while I'm at it, what's with the cover photo? With all the evident effort that went into the wonderfully intricate and precise arrangements, you'd think they'd spring for a real band photo. After all, they're a real band! 
It's an ill lit, out of focus selfie that looks like it was taken by an iPhone, with the band dressed like they came from a house-painting job, it doesn't do justice to the music inside. Ok for inside 'candid'. Bad for cover.

But that feels like nitpicking, and I hate to nitpick an album that I enjoyed so much. These are great musicians producing something that I guarantee you've never heard before-- lively, joyous, surprising and throughly entertaining music, a unique take on what a dance band can be, what a flute or oboe can do, and what classical music itself is (tho I hestitate to even use that term!). My advice to you, hardy listener, intrepid dancer: don't wait for the Deadmau5 remix (tho he could do some WORK on Dance #3;) Dust off the sackbut, get in leather or latex or lace, put this album on, and dance yer class off!!!

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