Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1084

Welcome to B&S

BRINGING YOU THE STORIES BEHIND MUSIC + ESSENTIAL NEWS, REVIEWS AND INTERVIEWS...

Review

Gordon Goodwinâs Big Phat Band: Life In The Bubble (Telarc)

Big Phat Band CD cover pic

8

6.1

Rate this Album

UK release date 26.05.2014

Now this is good. Really good. From the off, this stuff blasts out of the speakers and demands to be heard. I have played this in itâs entirety about eight times and keep finding something new to admire.

Itâs full of life, full of spirit and the sizzling, super tight arrangements make this a real cracker. One of the best big band albums I have heard for yonks. Uber contemporary, but will appeal to the retro purist set too.

The Grammy-winning big band leader, Gordon Goodwin, and his Big Phat Band return for the first album in three years with a big fat dollop of impeccable arrangements and big band fun, on this new release. It includes seven originals, along with the Grammy-winner for Best Instrumental Arrangement - âOn Green Dolphin Street,â a tribute to Oscar Peterson, the âGet Smartâ theme, and âParty Rockers,â featuring the vocals of Judith Hill (featured in â20 Feet From Stardom.â)

For 15 years, saxophonist/pianist and Grammy-winning composer/arranger Gordon Goodwin has been driving a train that wonât stop. He first assembled his Big Phat Band in 2000 â an ironic starting point for an 18-piece big band, given that the fleeting neo-swing craze of the late 1990s was just winding down. But Goodwin and his crew have always been in it for the long haul, and have outlasted just about every big band from the new swing age.
Since their ambitious beginnings, the Big Phat Band has burned up stages and studios with an eclectic, intelligent and high-energy brand of music that marries the best elements of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, John Barry and other big-band and orchestral jazz giants of the past 70 years.

âThereâs a significant segment of the population â and some are just high school kids â who inherited an appreciation for this music from their parents or their grandparents,â says Goodwin. âThey donât necessarily consider themselves jazz fans, but they find this music to be accessible without being highbrow or elitist. The inspiration behind this record is very simple, and very much in line with that of our previous records. We make music that sounds good to us, and it does seem to resonate with a lot of people.â

âLife In The Bubble,â is a 10-song set, all but three original songs penned by Goodwin. The covers are âGet Smart,â âOn Green Dolphin Street,â and âParty Rockers.â

The fizzing arrangements and balance of the traditional with the progressive, nails the bandâs main modus operandi. The clue to this lot not being rooted in the past, begins with a glance at the back cover of the CD, where a casual (and looking 20 years younger than his 60 years) Gordon, is pictured in a black jacket, black drainpipe jeans, white shirt and black skinny tie, wearing a pair of white pumps on his feet with black laces. A Jamie Cullum look perhaps.
Bernie Dresel plays drums, Eric Marienthal plays alto sax and the talented Wayne Bergeron is on trumpet. Produced by Gregg Field, Gordon Goodwin and San Savant. The name that leaps out though, is bassist Rick Shaw. I kid you not!

They have released seven studio albums that merge traditional big band with a very contemporary vibe. Since 2003, they have scored three Grammy awards and no less than 17 nominations. Put simply; they are the dogâsâ¦â¦â¦â¦â¦â¦

They open with the title track, a syncopated funk-flavoured tune that Goodwin says is âquite different to anything we have done before,â as it combines a variety of rhythmic textures from start to finish. Brian Scanlonâs tenor solo is on fire. This track nails the groove in fine style, and there are some really hot moments on this record, where the band are as one and firing on all cylinders like a well oiled machine. But it is never predictable or regimental; itâs exciting stuff and as mentioned earlier, the arrangements are spot on. âDoes This Chart Make Me Look Phat,â was inspired by bandleader and composer Sammy Nestico, whose work inspired Goodwin to write for big bands in his school years.

âOn Green Dolphin Street,â won the Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement at the 2014 awards, and Gordon says it was a great challenge to step into Oscar Petersonâs shoes as a pianist. The set closes with the no-holds-barred âParty Rockers,â written by Judith Hill who sings on the track. It is the biggest stylistic departure on the record, Judithâs fierce vocals the cherry on top.

The album pushes boundaries and is fearless. It appeals to me as not only a jazz and big band fan, but it has soul at its core and as my all time fave band is Tower of Power, this album ticks all the boxes. US born Gordonâs pedigree is exemplary, having been MD for Johnny Mathis and composed, arranged and/or conducted for a host of major artists, including Ray Charles, Christina Aguilera, Natalie Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme and Quincy Jones. His scoring and orchestrations can also be heard on dozens of big films. But fronting s big band is where his heart is.

âSwinging For The Fences,â the Phat Bandâs debut recording, released in 2000, featured Arturo Sandoval and Eddie Daniels. It was the very first commercially available DVD-Audio title ever released and the first DVD-Audio title to receive two Grammy nominations. âXXL,â the follow-up album in 2003, featured Brian McKnight and Take 6, getting three Grammy nods. In 2008 came âThe Phat Pack,â with Dianne Reeves, David Sanborn, Eddie Daniels and Take 6 joining in the fun. It got a Grammy nomination and spent 31 weeks on the Billboard jazz charts.

âAct Your Age,â far outsold every other big band record in its path, produced by Lee Ritenour and nominated for three Grammys. Patti Austin, Dave Grusin, Chick Corea and Art Tatum guested. Goodwin and the band joined the Telarc label in 2011, for the release of âThatâs How We Roll,â which again featured a few famous names, including bass hero Marcus Miller.

âLife In The Bubble,â is lively and upbeat, it is reserved and contemplative at the same time. Basically, itâs a blast.
Words SIMON REDLEY

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

Join the B&S Mailing List

Blues and Soul on Twitter