The Wings of Fire Orchestra is America’s self-proclaimed largest rock orchestra, and Bullfighter Ballet is their debut studio recording. The band hails from Boston, MA, featuring over 20 alumni and students from the prestigious Berklee College of Music, including a guest appearance by Berklee president Roger Brown. The album is meant to be an interpretation of the Thomas Wolfe novel, Look Homeward Angel, about a young man’s desire to leave his hometown in search of better and brighter futures. There are three acts, "The Bullfighter’s Ballet I&II" and "Factoryland", each addressing a theme accompanied by dialogue, both spoken and sung.
The album opens up with a Spanish trumpet solo fitting for a bullfighter’s arena. This leads into "C-town", a funky tune where the vocal melody is accompanied by the 6-horn section as well as a female vocal trio. The rhythm section maintains a solid, danceable groove throughout. The character of the opera is introduced more in the next few tracks, a young football player going off to college. The music is accompanied by announcers’ voices, cheerleaders, coaches’ whistles and spoken dialogue. All the while the rhythm section subtly changes the groove with each new theme. The horns provide powerful, punctuated interjections, while the vocal trio lends a lighter, more lyrical voice to the mix. The occasional scream trumpet will also keep you on your toes.
"Factoryland" is somewhat separate from the rest of the album thematically, dealing with a new set of characters that all work in a factory. Slightly less funky than "Bullfighter", it has a very straight-ahead feel done in more of a big band style, often with some Latin undertones. The overall sound is incredibly powerful, full-bodied and lyrical. (Some of the lyrics remind me of a Charlie Chaplin film called Modern Times)
In a musical sense, the album rocks. Every tune is tight, well played and entirely danceable. The solos are all amazingly well done, especially the trumpet work. The lyrics then add a whole new level of expression and interpretations. This reviewer certainly won’t attempt to define the meaning behind this work, but that may be the best thing about this album: it can be heard on several different levels. Besides being enjoyable to listen to, it could also be a great piece of social criticism. You’ll just have to listen to it and decide for yourself though.