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According to Jim Hoke’s website, Otto is “Possibly the best cello-woodwinds-vibraphone-pedal steel chamber group in town”. I certainly can’t improve on that evaluation! And it must be said that an ensemble whose repertoire ranges from The Easybeats, through Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention to Fauré and Les Six can’t be all bad.

Otto is Jim Hoke’s latest band. He’s been around quite a bit – New York, Oklahoma, Santa Barbara, Nashville – and he’s played on more albums than I could even begin to list. Most of the tracks on this disk are by Hoke himself and they’re all quite delightful. Occasionally, I found myself being reminded of Ian Gardiner’s much missed ensemble George W Welch in sound, but this music is much funkier and Californian.

The rest of this programme is eclectic, to say the least. Fauré’s Pavane is really lovely, and who would have thought of letting the pedal steel take the lead? Shankle’s flute is very cool here. Glover Johns Gill is a self–taught accordionist, arranger, and composer, who, in 2000, achieved critical acclaim for his group Tosca Tango Orchestra when it performed at the 5th Annual International Tango Festival, in Buenos Aires. This arrangement of Mignon is a kind of sub-Piazzolla tango–inflected dance. David Byrne was a founding member of the group Talking Heads and has since gone on to many solo projects in many media. Accident is a gentle and easy-going look at suburbia.

The Satie and Milhaud miniatures readily lend themselves to this kind of arrangement.

Brian Wilson was the main composer, producer, bassist, singer, and arranger for The Beach Boys and Don’t Talk (put your head on my shoulder) is a quiet meditation which, with the use of pedal steel, sounds rather Hawaiian. Friday on My Mind was a 1966 hit for the Australian rock band The Easybeats – it was a number 1 in Australia, no.5 in the UK and no.16 in the USA. It was voted “Best Australian Song” of all time, in 2001, by the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA). This is a nicely quirky arrangement.

Frank Zappa was influenced by, amongst others, Edgard Varèse. He wrote both classical and rock works, many of his early pieces being issued by his band The Mothers of Invention. Mom and Dad is one of my favourite Zappa tracks, being a rather sad, but typically cynical, song about parents and kids, and comes from the second Mothers Album, We’re Only in it for the Money . And if you think that today’s “stars” give their chldren crazy names think on this, Zappa’s four children are named Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen.

This disk has been one of the most unusual and enjoyable experiences this year. There’s nothing but good feeling here, and it’s very laid–back and cool. How often you’d want to listen to it is another matter but it’s the kind of disk you might return to when you want cheering up. Purely for enjoyment.

—Bob Briggs