A lot of great Baltimore arts projects come about in a similar way. Someone has an idea-a big, ambitious, kinda crazy idea. They kick it out to their contemporaries, who embrace it, make it their own. People from all corners of the city's arts communities dedicate their time, energy, and passion to this idea and, like magic, it becomes real.
Such has been the process that launched some of the city's best and most creative output, including the Baltimore Rock Opera Society, Fluid Movement's water ballets, Whartscape (and countless other Wham City projects), CityLit, and Artscape itself. Baltimore artists' total openness to new, challenging ideas and their willingness to help make them a reality-often for their own sake, without the prospect of making money or even receiving much acclaim-is what makes our arts community unique and vibrant.
The latest example-and one of the best-comes in Mobtown Moon, an album on which many of Baltimore's most accomplished musicians collaborated on an adventurous, challenging, thrilling reinvention of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. On its face, the project is both grandiose and also kinda lame. For many, Dark Side has long been relegated to the domain of classic-rock stations and pimply ninth graders getting high in their parents' basements.
And yet, local music dynamo (and former CP contributor) Sandy Asirvatham found new inspiration in the album almost 40 years after its release. ("What were the songs saying today? What was the core wisdom here, burrowed deep in the grooves," she asks in the liner notes. "Only one thing: Don't be afraid to care.") She turned to local singer-songwriter ellen cherry to collaborate and, in true Baltimore form, the duo found an army of local musicians eager to help.
The album is wildly eclectic but consistently absorbing. Dark Side's foreboding opening track, "Speak," becomes a feedback-bruised collage of found sound called "The City Speaks." It's followed by two takes on "Breathe": A chant version by the Junkyard Saints' Brian Simms and Vincent Stringer, and a more conventional, if considerably jazzier one led by cherry's and Asirvatham's sultry vocals and Ben Frock's stark trumpet stabs.
The instrumental "On the Run" is completely different, both from the previous tracks and the Dark Side original, dominated as it is by a hypnotic Andrew Grimm banjo riff combined with theremin-y sounds of cherry's Moog.
Things take another glorious detour in "The Great Gig in the Sky," which opens with an orchestral arrangement featuring violin, viola, cello, and bassoon, before breaking into a more traditional jazz-rock one, with Asirvatham taking the ecstatic vocals in a slightly Eastern direction.
Cris Jacobs, erstwhile leader of the Bridge, is right on the "Money," which leads into rapped verses by David "Native Son" Ross and Femi the DriFish. "Any Colour You Like" is all slinky jazz featuring standout players Russell Kirk on alto sax and Todd Marcus on bass clarinet. "Brain Damage" features Craig Alston on tenor and bari sax, and the deep, resonant vocals of local activist-singer Lea Gilmore. The album ends with "Eclipse," featuring vocals by students in the BSO's OrchKids program.
Conventional wisdom is that Dark Side of the Moon is a deeply gloomy album, obsessed with aging, fear, and death. But Asirvatham, cherry, and the dozens of other musicians who worked on this project show a different side of Dark Side, one filled with joy, hope, and passion.
Mobtown Moon comes out May 8, but is available earlier to supporters at the organizers' Indiegogo page, indiegogo.com/projects/ mobtownmoon-share-the-music-campaign.