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Reanimated hippie in a suit

Ilmārs Priede

A walk through cultural alchemy of the 20th century

Cheerful «Very Cool People» band returns to the sixties, reincarnating one of the most influential modern pop music movements, Woodstock, and the artists connected to it. continuing with a successful formula, inviting a bright soloist to take part; this time, Aija Andrejeva became a concert voice. one of the most well-known Latvian pop and rock music vocalists, known as «Aisha», has been more distant from her old image for some time, moving towards rock, funk, and jazz music standards and performing together with larger bands.

«Woodstock’s Renaissance» is Aija Andrejeva and VCP creator Elvijs Grafcovs’ service to their first musical inspiration sources — Woodstock artists of the 60ies and 70ies Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. The long list of 20 compositions is decorated by other well-known musicians, and their compositions are arranged in a way typical for VCP — playful rhythm parts and bright brass instruments, and back vocal arrangements. An additional spice is the fact that the contents of the album are concert recordings — live performances with all the nuances that come along.

The thematic backbone of the album is Woodstock — one of the most influential and well-known music festivals of the 20th century. Its historical part was to break barriers — this movement gathered together musicians, artists, and bohemians from very different societal levels and ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic groups. At times when the daily life and culture of the US were underlined with a central point of the Cold War, doubts about nuclear war, and a never-ending competition between West and East, American youngsters strived for peace and friendship. Woodstock was a large melting pot for rock, jazz, funk, blues, and folk, and all the neighbors of these genres met. The result of it was a contemporary music product with its own identity and message. Lyrically introspective, poetic, rarely nihilistic music served as an inspiration for the next 20 years. The generation that stood against discrimination, war, and a governmentally-sanctioned fight against freedom of speech and thought. Of course, all this movement was underlined by a hedonistic freedom inspired by alcohol and drugs that devalued this movement and its ambassadors to many others, calling them lazy hippies. However, in its brightest bloom, the music undoubtedly changed American culture and politics in a way that still echoes nowadays.

VCP band, very authentically and without any artificial tryouts, shows Woodstock’s aesthetics. Even though a vast accompanying wind instrument group wasn’t the most recognizable stamp of Woodstock, it helps this album create a renaissance or reincarnation of this music nowadays. A miniature big band line-up and back vocals give an arranger a wider palette, letting him dress very well-known compositions into new colors, similar to putting on a vest and a tie onto a happily dizzy hippie.

Aija Andrejeva truly reincarnates Janis Joplin’s almost maniacal stage energy, not letting her leg off the gas pedal from the beginning to the end of the show. Even though the energy is real, Aija’s timbre differs from Janis’s, and this is a little bit tiresome at some parts of an hour-long album in the higher registers. In some parts where Janis gives some spice, for example, the iconic vocalize in «Try (just a little bit harder)», Aija’s input isn’t that close to Janis’ free and bluesy vocal manner but is, unfortunately, pushing instead. However, in the compositions like «The Doors» concert part in the middle, where Aija interprets Jim Morrison’s easygoing vocals, the overall impression is way more pleasant and unforced, even if the compositions are transposed higher. Overall I, as a listener, liked listening to the parts that were comfortable enough for Aija’s voice diapason.

Instrumentally VCP shines bright as usual. This adventurous band gives new life to compositions with modern sound and interplay. Live performance and recording have a tangible authenticity that’s typical for Woodstock era performances both in a studio and outside it — that’s a party whirlpool mood with a slightly destructive and noisy sound that shows a listener that musicians enjoy their time on the stage and nobody of the listeners keeps their body parts static. especially interesting is the «Purple Haze» composition, which is very energetically dense from the intro, with the listener placed in the epicenter of percussive artillery. Hendrix’s vocals are reincarnated by a baritone saxophone with an interpretation in a harsh upper register. That’s a very interesting arrangement that pleasantly surprises and fools the listeners’ ears that know the original version.

In the second part of the album, the vocal bar is in another ladies’ hands — Laura Rozenberga bravely continues the party with her cloudy alto register voice. Even though she doesn’t demonstrate such explosive energy and certainty as Aija Andrejeva, I was pleasantly surprised when listening to the album. Laura’s voice, being close to Hendrix, brings the listener a pleasant relief after a very energetic list of Joplin’s compositions. The tune «Little Wing», one of my favorite compositions of Hendrix, vocalists Zane and Antra greatly interpreted a bluesy original. At the end of the album, it’s Aija’s turn again — stage time for probably Joplin’s most popular compositions, including «Cry Baby», where Aija’s voice shines bright.

Apart from evident cover versions and original comparisons, there’s also a light comparison with a previous album of the same formula, «Pa Apli». It’s seldom that cover versions get greater appreciation than originals, apart from the cases when something absolutely unique like «Purple Haze» gets offered. If not, the compositions seem to be just originals in another package, even if nicely arranged and performed. The album «Pa Apli» (which I still listen to from time to time) is where original music dominates, bringing the material to a completely different level. The presence of original performers validates the authenticity of the whole performance. «Woodstock’s Renaissance» is an album that you most probably have to experience live, where its powerful impression gets delivered to the listener in a straightforward and precise way and stays with the listener as a beautiful, true memory. Meanwhile, the concert album is a photo that keeps the memory of the moment forever, although won’t ever be able to share its light and sound just the same way as on the day of a live show.