Having distinguished himself in a career spanning decades as a bassist, composer, producer, and recording engineer, Dan Dean turned his attention four years ago to the creation of classical pieces using purely vocal means. The artistic success of Songs Without Words encouraged him to fashion a successor, which brings us to the glorious Fanfare for the Common Man. It couldn't be any more of a solo project: using overdubbing to assemble his voice into choir-like ensembles, the eleven pieces were recorded one painstaking vocal part at a time over the course of a full year at DDP Studios in Mercer Island, WA.
The selections generally approximate a classical music 'Greatest Hits' package, featuring as it does material by J. S. Bach, Aaron Copland, Gustav Holst, and others, but in Dean's hands, the pieces are reborn, so much so it feels like hearing them anew. Technically, the feat is remarkable, of course, but the album is ultimately more commendable for the extraordinary musicality Dean achieves. One is dazzled by the skill with which he's arranged vocal parts into multi-tiered constructions (the treatment of Holst's "Mars: The Bringer of War" totals fifty-eight tracks) and replicated the originals' multiple orchestral parts but even more engrossed by the magnificence of the musical effect. Had The Beach Boys decided after recording "Our Prayer" to create a full album of classical material using the same a cappella approach, something like Fanfare for the Common Man might well have been the stirring result.
The album opens on a magnificent high with the reverential hush of Elgar's "Nimrod" from The Enigma Variations. That the piece unfolds slowly enables one to appreciate all the better the artistry of Dean's approach and how expertly he weaves his vocal overdubs into a towering tapestry. Boldly contrasting with it in tempo is the high-velocity "Allegro" from Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #3 in G major. Whereas three other works by the composer appear, including enrapturing renditions of "Wachet auf ruft uns die stimme" (aka "Sleepers Awake") and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," Mozart's represented by a stunning eight-minute treatment of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Never is the finesse Dean achieves on the recording more evident than here.
Certain pieces posed particular challenges. For Copland's title work, for example, Dean had to figure out how to translate the original's percussion elements into vocal form, Debussy's "La fille aux cheveux de lin" ("The Girl with Flaxen Hair") likewise challenged him in being so rich in tonal colour, and Mendelssohn's "Scherzo" from A Midsummer Night's Dream presented a different hurdle in being strongly rooted in sixteenth notes.
Dean begins Fanfare for the Common Man with simulations of orchestral cymbals before moving onto vocal recreations of the work's majestic brass figures. Gentle by comparison is the Debussy rendering, which using vocal means only captures the original's graceful lyricism. Meanwhile, the foreboding of Holst's "Mars: The Bringer of War" as well as its attendant percussion and brass parts are all effectively realized. Word has it that Dean, emboldened by the success of the first two volumes, is already hard at work on a third. One expects that it'll likely match the first two for quality and take its rightful place as the third component in this remarkable project. Of course it also might well extend into additional volumes, given the massive amount of orchestral material available to him.