Saturday, August 6, 2011

Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band: That's How We Roll

Telarc Records
By Ric Bang
Buy CD: That's How We Roll

More than 10 years have passed since Gordon Goodwin formed his Big Phat Band, and listeners not yet familiar with this ensemble have missed a lot of wonderful, swinging, jazz.

But it’s never too late: This album, the group's first in more than two years, picks up where the previous one left off ... without missing a beat.

When Goodwin says big, that’s precisely what he means. The basic orchestra numbers 18 artists — five woodwinds, four trumpets/flugelhorns, four trombones and a five-man rhythm section — and “guests” always augment the ensemble. (Participants include the Take 6 vocal group, Eddie Daniels, Michael Brecker, Arturo Sandoval, David Sanborn and others.) Goodwin plays keyboards and sax, and each member of the woodwinds also plays clarinet and flute; the group is both big and multi-talented.

Goodwin composed all but one of the 10 songs on this release — the exception is Gershwin’s "Rhapsody in Blue" — and did all of the arrangements.

During his career, Goodwin has earned 11 Grammy nominations and one award — for arranging Michael Giacchino's score for The Incredibles — along with three Emmy Awards (two for his work on the cartoon series Animaniacs). When he’s not working on cinematic scoring and orchestration, Goodwin conducts symphony orchestras. The Big Phat Band is his jazz outlet.

Goodwin’s arrangements aren’t simple — you can’t begin to appreciate everything that’s going on, until about the third or fourth listen — but the musicians are so talented, they make it sound effortless. The outstanding solo work takes place over those marvelous ensemble passages, and all I can say is, wow. It’s like a high-speed train that just swings on and on and on.

It’s difficult to pick out the most impressive tracks, but you’ve never heard "Rhapsody in Blue" like this before. Gershwin would love it! "Gaining on You" is another flag-waver you won’t forget.

As an aside, Goodwin's titles for his tunes — such as "Rippin' and Runnin' " and "Hunting Wabbits 3" — are as clever as the music is great.

You’ll never hear a group that’s better rehearsed or "cleaner"; they’re like a Swiss watch. At the same time, they swing like mad.

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