The West Philadelphia Ochestra (WPO) is 14 of Philadelphia's best and most daring musicians playing music that is either from Eastern Europe (Balkan and klezmer primarily) or is inspired by such sounds and rhythms. This album, WPO, is their debut effort and features several original compositions, plus a few arrangements, some radical, of traditional tunes. 'Overflowing joy' is an apt adjective for the WPO experience.
This edition, with the brown cover and brass forest, is the mass-produced version of 'WPO,' which was initially released in a handmade version that had a white flaming truck on the cover. So this is the same as the white flaming truck! This project is supported in part through Subito, the quick advantement grant program of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum, to whom we are extremely grateful.
In September of 2006, bandleader Gregg Mervine invited 7 musician friends to his West Philly porch and got them jamming on traditional Eastern European melodies. Through word of mouth, news of the group's formation spread and the right folks with the right talents became regulars at the weekly jam/potluck on the porch. WPO quickly evolved into a obstreperous village band in step with West Philly’s DIY culture (i.e. its Co-Ops, underground music networks, and political activist legacy), but whose playing can just as easily wring tears and sorrow from the soul as it can spark cathartic outpourings of joyful ecstasy. WPO is an ensemble for both children and adults, one that sounds fantastic in darkness and sunshine, and which represents inspiring standards of excellence - which, like an orchestra, can express the gamut of human experience.
Members of the band come from all different traditions and walks of life. There's jazz saxophonist/poet Elliot Levin, (Odean Pope, Cecil Taylor, New Ghost, and Melvin and the Bluenotes); violinist Katt Hernandez, who plays the Macedonian fiddle style well, has toured with Vashti Bunyan, yet is probably best known for here experimental, boundary-breaking violin/voice improvisations. Drummer Gregg Mervine is equally at home in bebop, reggae/dancehall (Ari Up, King Django), punk (Stinking Lizavetta, Cheese on Bread), and klezmer (Klez Dispensers, Frank London, etc.). Bassist and vocalist Jack Ohly plays original music under his own name, which utilizes the upright bass in fascinating ways; he also plays music from Northeastern Brazil, where he lived for several years, with Old Goats. And then there's Janos Perge, a violinist from Hungary who came to Philadelphia to research neuroscience at UPenn and somehow found himself playing Hungarian and Balkan folk music, who is also a fine singer and arranger. Other players include trombonists Larry Toft and Brendan Cooney (also banjo), Kimbal Brown, Patrick Hughes, Dawn Webster, and Adam Hershberger on trumpets, Jacob Mitas on viola, Shinjoo Cho on accordion, and Steve Duffy is the sousaphonist.
WPO has played at the Philadelphia's Kimmel Center, NY's Goldenfest, the Rotunda, the Khyber, North Star Bar, World Cafe, Mehanata, and play monthly at Tritone in Philly. They've also played weddings, benefits, house parties, punk rock basement shows, and you name it. They're live shows are frenetic, high-energy, and usually go all-night.