Sound Liberation is the brainchild of Gene Pritsker, an astonishingly prolific composer and multi-instrumentalist from New York who has plied his trade on the modern classical scene for the last two decades, as well as writing scores for numerous television and film productions. Pritsker’s classical education has been augmented and tempered by his exposure to other styles of music in multi-ethnic New York, and jazz, funk, bebop, hip hop, swing and big band all feature prominently in his work alongside baroque and romantic elements. Sound Liberation ties together these disparate influences together, using more than twenty musicians to articulate a unique cross-genre fusion of which “Open Up Your Ears and Get Some” is the latest expression. The album has been doing the rounds for several years now but continues to surprise reviewers with its intelligence, depth and complexity.
Standing out from the myriad of other sonic elements, it’s really the fusion between the classical arrangements played by the chamber orchestra and slick, intelligent hip hop beats and vocals that encapsulate what Sound Liberation are all about. The romanticism of Chopin and Brahms feature prominently, as does the influence of Baroque composers like Bach and chamber arrangements by Mozart. A focus on chamber-sized compositions rather than full blown symphonic pieces lends itself to a high degree of precision and technicality that nicely complements the intricacy of the hip hop inspired rhythm, spliced together from recorded studio drums and samples.
Opening track “Prelude 21st Century” is a perfect introduction to the Sound Liberation style. It borrows heavily from Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor Op. 28/4”, transposing the piano intro to cello and adding a slow-burning funk guitar that lies low in the mix and works with the drums to add a lazy but purposeful rhythm that falls just the right side of languid. Chopin’s work re-emerges later in the track as a refrain for the polemic rap vocals that make “Prelude 21st Century” less of an exercise in genre conflation and more of a direct expression of Pritsker’s mission statement. Rapping duties are mostly handled by cellist David Gotay and Pritsker himself and lyrics and delivery are consistently sharp, smart and funny from the opening track to closer “No Truth”, where a harpsichord backing plays the duo out.
Jazz, and to a lesser extent funk, is ever-present throughout “Open Up Your Ears and Get Some”. Not, perhaps, as fundamental a part of the record’s DNA as classical or hip hop but there all the same. A handful of tracks bring jazz elements to the forefront like the high octane “Let Go Of My Soul” which sees brass instruments duel guitars in a dizzying battle for musical supremacy and the saxophone-led Infinity.
Self-indulgence is kept in check for the most part; arrangements are usually fairly constrained and solos rarely outstay their welcome. Noodling for noodling’s sake this is not. As with any rule however, there are exceptions. The instrumental tune “Unutterable”, the longest song on the album at nearly 9 minutes, stretches patience a little too far although the solo bass work that dominates the middle section is undeniably impressive.
There’s the slightest hint of vintage hard rock in there too in the rapid-fire violin leads that bring songs like “Prelude 21st Century” to a close. The instrumentation is classical but the stylistics are unmistakeably the writhing of a blistering electric guitar solo. It’s captivating stuff and fits more closely with the organic feel of the record than the atonal distorted fretwork that characterises the spacey midsection of “Mozart and 21st Century Klezmar”. Even when they make a rare appearance though, rock influences seldom surface in their pure forms as the crooned vocals over “Oh Come To The Window”’s squealing lead plainly show.
“Open Up Your Ears And Get Some” is an exceptionally complex and challenging record that lays down a gauntlet to the listener. After listening to a the album on and off for a week, I feel that I’ve only just started to get under the skin of Sound Liberation and every time I play a new track I find something new that I haven’t noticed before. Jazz and classical aficionados will love it but fans of progressive rock and metal might be surprised just how much enjoyment they get out of “Open Up Your Ears and Get Some”. Sound Liberation display a level of multi-instrumental virtuosity and imagination that makes middleweight prog acts seem positively pedestrian by comparison. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea for sure but for the open-minded muso, there’s weeks and weeks of musical nourishment to feast upon in these thirteen tracks.