This is the third album from the award-winning 18-member Big Phat Band. The first one was originally a DTS-only CD, then a DVD-A, and finally a Dual Disc with DVD-A. The second one was just a DVD-A. Both albums were on the Silverline label. The new one came out last month but the first jewel box sent me lacked the bonus DVD so I had to wait for a replacement to review it.
So it was a bit disappointing to see the hi-res surround option omitted from the third release, but the Dolby 5.1 surround is a killer on the DVD and can be played back by almost anybody with a standard DVD player. Hollywood composer/orchestrator/arranger Goodwin hasn’t really switched labels – Immergent is part of the Silverline family of labels. The second album won a Surround Professional award for “Best Made-for-Surround Title,” and leader Gordon Goodwin won a Grammy for his work on the scoring of the animated feature The Incredibles. The CD has plenty of snap and lets you dig this powerfully-swinging big band in your car or walking, but it doesn’t compare with the impact of the very immersive Immergent surround DVD!
The visual part of the surround DVD is better than that on many DVD-As, but is still basically a slide show of the recording session in the legendary Capitol recording studios in Hollywood, with the slides changing at approximately a ten-second interval. The shots of the players and guest artists seldom are in sync with the music being heard. For example, there could be a trombone on the screen while you’re hearing a sax solo. And after awhile it becomes obvious there are only a limited number of shots and some get repeated several times during one track – though at least it’s not exactly the same slides for all the tracks, as some DVD-As have done.
I would think most people would like to see the slide show the first time they listen to the album, and then just turn off the video circuit on your player (if you can) for slightly better fidelity and dig the zealous surround mix. Nine of the 13 selections are by Goodwin himself, and he’s closely associated with a tenth – the theme of the horror-comedy Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Goodwin’s arrangements are super-clever and ear-catching, and they work hand-in-glove with the exaggerated DTS-type surround mixing on the DVD. It often puts piano and percussion on the surround behind you and sometimes one of the surround channels will be totally muted for a time to point up an instrument being heard on the other surround channel. The brass is usually up front and with a very wide soundstage. Soloists are dead center and that brings up the guest appearances on this album. Vocalist Dianne Reeves is heard on Too Close for Comfort, saxist David Sanborn “Plays That Funky Music,” clarinetist Eddie Daniels has an extended solo stint on Under the Wire, and the vocal ensemble Take 6 does a bang-up job of expanding Frank Sinatra’s patented It Was a Very Good Year to their multiple voices. Both the last two were also heard on the previous Big Phat Band albums, and the Take 6 members say they love to perform with Goodwin’s band because he is one of the few arrangers who also arrange their vocal parts just so.
The humorous touches are not limited to the Tomatoes theme. There is what sounds like a theme for a similar movie, titled Count Bubba’s Revenge, and shades of Carl Stalling’s music for Bugs Bunny is heard in Gordon’s Hunting Wabbits 2 (A Bad Hare Day), which encores something he started on the previous album. The disc’s touching closer, An American Elegy, is Goodwin’s take on 9/11 compositions. The DVD is filled with bonus features, including written-out transcriptions of some of the exciting solos on the album, which can be printed out and played, bios of each band member, a Big Phat Trivia Game which includes a bonus audio track, audio commentary by Goodwin on each track, a chance to make Your Own Mix of one of the tracks, liner notes for the album, MP3 files of the music, and interviews with the band you access using something called DVD Launcher (but there were no instructions how to do that).
As the band’s name suggests, Goodwin and his players have similar aspirations to the swinging Las Vegas crew of the 50s and 60s, trying to play the music with the same sense of fun that Frank, Sammy and Dean had. One thinks immediately of the best backing Sinatra ever had, such as his famous album with the Basie Band. Any big band aficionado would be in heaven listening to this smash of an album!
Tracks: Cut ‘n Run, Too Close for Comfort, Count Bubba’s Revenge, Play That Funky Music, The Phat Pack, Hunting Wabbits 2 (A Bad Hare Day), La Almeja Pequena (The Little Clam), Get In Line, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Under the Wire, Whodunnit?, It Was a Very Good Year, Ever Braver Ever Stronger (An American Elegy).
– John Henry