Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band – Life In The Bubble – Telarc 35453-02, 63:36 ****:

(Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band with guest vocalist Judith Hill, track 10)

Who doesn’t like a swinging big band? The usual answer is no one. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band falls into that category and given the common perspective among the band members, the musical results are readily apparent on the latest release Life In The Bubble.

With Gordon Goodwin writing charts that are consistently exciting and from which the band takes motivation, the group embarks with the title composition “Life In The Bubble” which features Brian Scanlon on tenor sax. It is a complex structured piece with different rhythmic textures over which Scanlon layers his solo work. Goodwin originally constructed the first iteration of this band in 2000 and it has continued in one form or another since then capitalizing on the high-octane ensemble playing. This is exemplified with “Why Can’t We Have Nice Things” where the band rocks out with drummer Bernie Dresel pushing the arrangement along with alto saxophonist Kevin Garren and trombonist Andy Martin taking full advantage of the allotted solo space.

While the band’s principal modus operandi is compositions that are filled with harmonic forcefulness, they sometimes show a softer side as in the ballad “The Passage” where the alto sax of Eric Marienthal shows his understanding of what the score is trying to achieve. His economy of style and sturdy lyrical grip give the chart its resourcefulness. A Latin influence has not escaped Goodwin’s attention which he uses to frame a percussive beat in “Garaje Gato” where both drummer Bernie Dresel and percussionist Joey Deleon work on building the force the composition requires. Trombonist Francisco Torres rips off a terrific solo and the leader Goodwin chips in on tenor sax.

The 2014 Grammy Awards acknowledged the track “On Green Dolphin Street” with the Best Instrumental Arrangement of the year which Goodwin in the liner notes states ,”it was done as a tribute to pianist Oscar Peterson”. Specifically the jumping off point was the seldom heard solo that Peterson played on this title( no context given) tied to Goodwin’s own arrangement and piano solo on this track. This all seemed to work remarkably well as evidenced by the Grammy.

All in all this is a bustling aggregation that swings despite the complex  arrangements.

TrackList: Life In The Bubble; Why Can’t We Have Nice; Synolicks; Years Of Therapy; The Passage; Garaje Gato; Does The Chart Make Me Look Phat?; Get Smart; On Green Dolphin Street; Party Rockers

—Pierre Giroux