Based in Richmond, Virginia, guitarist Matt White's Fight the Big Bull is a prime example of how the information age has leveled the playing field for artists outside major metropolitan areas. Originally a self-released demo, Dying Will Be Easy is now available from the illustrious Portuguese label Clean Feed. One listen to the ensemble's debut and it's easy to see why they've garnered so much attention; Fight the Big Bull has great potential.
With informative liner notes by Sex Mob's Steven Bernstein, White's nonet offers a brief (31 minutes) but powerful program of four tunes that encapsulate a wealth of historical influences. The brass heavy ensemble channels the swaggering bluster of Duke Ellington, while exuding an evocative Mediterranean vibe, akin to Charles Mingus's groundbreaking 1963 album The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Impulse!).
On one of the year's most stunning openings, Bryan Hooten's electronically distorted slide trombone ascends from darkness, cutting through a swath of brooding horns and martial rhythms. The band kicks into high gear, led by an ecstatic tenor solo from J.C. Kuhl before Hooten's amplified trombone reappears at the coda, accompanied by wailing horns. Primal and passionate, this is an updated version of the raw, gutbucket expressionism that made early jazz so exciting.
More reserved but no less enthusiastic, is the flamenco-themed "November 25th," which features Bob Miller's soaring trumpet over syncopated handclaps and elastic bass. The fiery percussion duet at the center of "Grizzly Bear" is bookended by a strutting theme led by White's sinister reverbed guitar as Hooten takes the tune out with bluesy tailgating vigor. "In Jarama Valley" spotlights Kuhl's incisive tenor variations and the nonet's sublime interaction on an extended meditation that includes contrapuntal melodies, caterwauling cacophony, and rich horn chorales.
At a mere half hour, Dying Will Be Easy reveals incredible potential in White's arrangements and compositions. With their bracing fanfares, percolating rhythms, and dramatically sweeping melodies, Fight the Big Bull revels in the unrefined, expressive qualities of seminal jazz and blues. This is gritty, visceral music that appeals to the heart as well as the brain.
Personnel: Matt White: guitar; Adrian Sandi: clarinet; J.C. Kuhl: tenor saxophone; Bob Miller: trumpet; Bryan Hooten: trombone; Reggie Pace: trombone; Cameron Ralston, bass; Pinson Chanselle: trap kit; Brian Jones: percussion.