San Diego, California is a place I’ve personally never visited. When I do finally go there, I sure hope that Wise Monkey Orchestra is back from their latest tour. According to the local entertainment rag, SLAMM, San Diego is a lesser place without them. From listening to their fourth and latest CD, Make Believe, I’m sure it’s true.
Originally formed in Tempe, AZ in 1990, the band migrated west in 1994, surely leaving a gaping hole in the desert’s soul. This seven-piece family is a collection of fine musicians and their instruments working toward a common goal-one of musical domination over life’s tribulations. Calling their sound “Kinetic Soul”, they touch lands everywhere between ’60’s r&B, the Caribbean, Chicago and the funkier side of Phishadelia. Featuring sultry Alley on vocals, WMO succeeds in their travels by mixing a whole lotta funky rhythm with some nice horn work and an occasional message. The rest of the orchestra includes Tim Pacheco-congas, vocals and trumpet, Chad Stewart-bass, Scott Homan-guitar, Andy Geib-trombone and flute, Sean Hart-drums and keyboards, and Ed Fletcher-drums, percussion and keyboards.
To set the mood for the disc, “The Truth” put me on the ‘good foot’ from note one, setting the funky button at a solid 7.5 for the duration with only a few breaks to get soulful over the 11 tracks. Alley’s lyrics on “Grass Skirt” are, I think, prophetic for this band-“All this time/I’ve been working/To get somewhere/Now I know I can’t be stoppin’/Cuz I’m almost there.” Written by Hart, “Smog” explores the spacier side of automobiles orbiting slowly around the planet, and is the trippiest offering on the disc. “Jerry’s Tune,” features Demink on guitar and the horns in an up-tempo jazzy instrumental jam. “Faith,” penned by Pacheco, subtly challenges the thought process of the masses. This is a song that would find widespread commercial airplay in a just world. But, “Your time will come you’ll see/Keep waiting patiently.”
“All Day Long” is an extra funky, bluesy jam with some prominent trombone work and a nice use of dynamic swells. “The Other Side” employs a trombone, trumpet and sax harmony round and funk guitar to explore the other side of relationships and personalities. “Make Believe,” the title track, is a slower lament with a mid-tempo break featuring a muted trumpet solo. “Blues for Jordy” is another wonderful mid-tempo instrumental jam that allows everyone a turn in the spotlight. “Unreal Appeal” ends the disc on the upbeat tip it started with and features a nice breakdown between verses before bringing it up even funkier.
All in all, this is a solid work and fun disc to listen to. There are occasional thin spots in the production, however these are overcome by the energy that this band delivers. My advice is to buy this disc from the Homegrown Music Network and try to catch the band at one of their 200+ tourdates this year. I’m sure their live show is a sweaty, booty-shaking bomb, and the jams that are teased on this disc promise that the band could stretch out and get crazy. Wise Monkey Orchestra has put forth a nice collection here that deserves a listen from an audience that is being spoon-fed pabulum by commercial radio.
Ah hell, let’s just share these cats with San Diego and enjoy the groove. Almost there, indeed.