2006 was a strange year, and at times, there wasn't much to be happy about. On the A-list of delightful experiences was THE HAPPY ELECTROPOP MUSIC MACHINE, a true comeback
CD for whimsical space age pop legend Jean-Jacques Perrey. It is also notable as the debut commercial recording release of the talented composer and musician Dana Countryman.
HEMM is clearly JJP's show, but Countryman's contributions are solid and essential to the project's success. The two musicians' manifesto was, simply put, to create a recording that would bring happiness to the world.
In a sense, this album is a forum for Perrey's unabashed return to the highly melodic, zany-sentimental material which he composed and recorded in the 1960s and '70s. Unfortunately, the electronic music genre he pioneered soon became plagued with non-musical
conceits. Gloom, doom and meandering experimentation replaced atmosphere, composition and melody.
HEMM gives the reins of electronic pop back to the man who humbly created them, 40-plus years ago.
I am familiar with the music of both gentlemen, and most of the compositions here are true collaborations. In some cases, Perrey would write the main theme, and Countryman then devised a second one, or vice versa. The results are seamless. I can pick out passages I know are DC's, and many of Perrey's musical ideas are evident.
A pleasant surprise for many listeners are the cover versions nestled between the many original tunes. A brilliant retooling of Leroy Anderson's "The Typewriter," and a novel medley of "Hernando's Hideaway" and "Tico Tico" harken back to the
glory days of space age pop. No one seems to revive these mid-century tunes anymore, and the playful, inventive renditions are truly refreshing.
The original tunes are consistently solid and pleasant. I'm hard pressed to single out a favorite. "Cosmic Cowboys and Indians," "Pizzicato Samba," "Forever Moog," "Whistling Cosmonauts" and the highly sentimental "Edith Von Aachenburg" are fine pieces. The
"Troll's Story" suite, one of JJP's most ambitious works to date, bears repeated listenings. It brims over with humor and fine music.
The album has several guest performers--Dick Hyman, Vinnie Bell, Robert Drasnin and two fine percussionists, Rick Bowen and Todd Parks. The arrangements and keyboard artistry of Mr. Countryman are the unheralded stars of this show. Countryman gives his all to offer sympathetic, full-bodied support to Perrey's musical ideas.
I have seldom seen a collaboration so mutually supportive and loving as Perrey and Countryman's, throughout this album. They succeeded in their goal. Each time I hear HEMM, I smile and the world's nonsense and fury is put into some perspective. Though this CD may not threaten Britney Spears' sales (which is a tragic truth of the music biz), it is a superior recording, invested in a lot of creativity and love. It will disarm, delight, and intrigue you, and you deserve to hear it.