While on break, two entirely different music groups near and dear to my heart released two entirely different EPs. The day after Thanksgiving, jazz rock quintet Work Friends debuted with their eponymous recording. On Christmas Eve, The Burstein Boys, a unique and comical boy band, made available their second recording, “A Very Merry Burstein Boys Christmas and Holiday Season.” These two releases are a very worthy representation of the wide variety of music at Lawrence and the labors of love that occur outside and beyond credited ensembles and the like.
Work Friends’ “Work Friends”
Despite their tongue-in-cheek name, this group of musicians from the class of ’17 knows how to be serious. Their four tracks touch upon many emotions, styles and colors in only 28 minutes, yet at no point do they sound like they are spreading themselves too thin. While they have known each other and collaborated together in various formations for four years, the beauty and success of this EP cannot simply be attributed to that bond. It also has to do with the fact that recording this album—done a few days before their graduation—was a goodbye, at least for a while. Although they went on a short tour several months after recording, the actual recording of the album was a finale to their college music careers—not in any way attempting to sum up their four years together, but simply playing together in the jazz room before they moved on to the next stage in their lives.
Even if you don’t know the players—tenor saxophonist/composer Sam Pratt, tenor saxophonist Miles Allen, pianist Matt Blair, bassist Jakob Heinemann and drummer Jeremiah Hawk—I am sure this EP will still hit in all the right places. Pratt, a burgeoning composer—especially in his senior year—wrote all four tunes, blending his improvised music/jazz passions along with his love for rock and songwriting. Jazz’s fusion with rock is often overlooked, with the emphasis on jazz and hip-hop melding, but Work Friends is a clear case for that scene to get more attention and listeners. While their influence from similar Midwest jazz scenes can be heard, it is the personable, honest and original aspects of each of these bands that gives so much life to the individual groups. Work Friends stands out in their own way—a way that lies in the nuances of the improvising, compositions, approaches and so much more, a way that is sometimes as hard to put words to as it is warming. To know this music is to know the work friends who made it, and if you listen, I am sure you will know and love both.
Purchase the EP here: workfriends.bandcamp.com/album/work-friends
The Burstein Boys’ “A Very Merry Burstein Boys Christmas and Holiday Season”
The Burstein Boys are a new band at Lawrence, the project of sophomores Matthew Wronski, Leo Mayer and Alex Quade. (While Quade is not on this release, he is credited with “love and support” and backs the two songwriters and multi-instrumentalists of the trio live and on their first EP.) With a handful of shows, two EPs and a surprisingly prolific repertoire of strictly original music—writing their own tunes and avoiding covers is somewhat of a credo—The Burstein Boys have quickly established themselves as a band that can play enjoyable rock ’n’ roll with prominent dollops of humor and whimsy. Not only that, but due to their large repertoire, they are able to play a wide variety of sets, which is incredibly unique for a campus band that plays composed music. While this is all impressive, the thing that perhaps impresses me the most is that they were able to stick to their credo and release an EP of six Christmas songs that are completely original. No covers of “Jingle Bells,” “Frosty the Snowman,” not even the tempting “All I Want for Christmas Is You”—these songs could only have come from the brains of Wronski and Mayer, and once you listen, you will immediately know why.
While they describe themselves as a boy band, the two music nerds use their eclectic backgrounds to create music that I strongly believe few others would categorize as “boy band music.” Take the nearly-minute-long whistling chorale intro to “Johnny Chanukah,” a documentation of a little Jewish boy who just wants to celebrate Christmas. The intro is enough to set them apart from any other boy band, but the song continues with a beautifully told story that does not take itself too seriously and a perfectly over-the-top guitar solo. But “Johnny Chanukah” is not an outlier on the EP—all of the songs have a wonderful mood that captures a certain type of holiday spirit, regardless of whether it is the same spirit most know and love in Christmas music. Make sure to spin this next holiday season.
Download the EP and their debut here: thebursteinboys.bandcamp.com