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Benjamin Koppel - White Buses: Passage to Freedom (Cowbell Music)

5 December 2023

During World War II, there were 20,000 concentration camp prisoners rescued by the White Buses, an operation coordinated and organized by the Red Cross. Danish saxophonist Benjamin Koppel feels this is a story we should all remember – hence White Buses: Passage to Freedom, a thematic concept album. Fueled by quotes recorded by Koppel himself, the record attempts to translate those testimonials into music – an enormous challenge for anyone, but the composer seems up to it. Take “Talking About Food,” a harrowing situation that becomes a surging anthem of desperation and hope. Or “The Planes in the Sky,” a cut that revolves around Uri Caine’s piano and sounds like watching the planes cross without daring to dream they might be coming for the survivors. Surrounded by peers from all over the world, Koppel writes music that contains enough easy accessibility to draw listeners in, but he never makes the going too easy. Between the testimonials and his ability to soothe and disturb at the same time, White Buses manages to give a group of people who endured unimaginable hardship the honor they deserve.