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Frank Macchia: Grease Mechanix

Jack Bowers By

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One thing that must be said about Frank Macchia (well, two things, actually)—he's a wild and crazy composer / bandleader whose satchel is always overflowing with splendid musical surprises. On his new album, Grease Mechanix, Macchia goes funky in a New Orleans brass band manner, employing a seventeen-piece ensemble comprised of some of the best sidemen the Los Angeles area has to offer to design such instant jazz classics as "Zombies Ate My Grandma," "Chicken Neck," "I'm So Damn Mad!," "Sweet Patootie Waltz" and "Fatback Bubblebath," to name only a few.

Another well-known maxim is that comedy is serious business, and if Macchia and his comrades customarily play with tongue in cheek, they are no less diligent or attuned to his musical strategy. Macchia envisioned the idea for this enterprise, he writes, "after listening to some New Orleans brass bands and [his] favorite funk bands. The idea was to do a bunch of funk tunes where the tuba and bass sax would supply the bass lines, and rhythm guitar would do the chord component." And so they do, with the tuba, bass sax and guitar in the capable hands of Bill Reichenbach, Jay Mason and Ken Rosser. And speaking of capable hands, drummer Peter Erskine sees to it that the rhythmic component is rock-solid, with ample help from Rosser and percussionist Brad Dutz.

Macchia, who wrote and arranged everything, takes a thunderous contrabass clarinet solo on the shuffling "Squiggles." He also sings (after a fashion) on "Zombies," "Bad Juju," "Fat Cat," "So Damn Mad!" and "Fatback," with Tracy London (and perhaps others) providing background vocals. While almost every tune is upbeat and buoyant, there is one departure in midstream, as Bob Sheppard's expressive tenor sax is showcased on the graceful "Bucket o' Tears." For lyricism, there's the charming "Sweet Patootie Waltz," whose deep-throated solos are by Reichenbach and Mason. And for fireworks, sample Wayne Bergeron's high-flying trumpet on the assertive "Bulldog," or the brassy opener, "Buckin' Bronco."

If you're partial to brass bands, emphatic rhythms, New Orleans-style swing or simply superlative contemporary jazz that embodies all those elements, it doesn't get much better than Macchia and his perceptive, sure-handed Grease Mechanix.

Track Listing: Buckin’ Bronco; Zombies Ate My Grandma; Chicken Neck; Shhhh!; Bad Juju; Fat Cat; Squiggles; I’m So Damn Mad!; Bucket o’ Tears; Atonal Dance Party; Sweet Patootie Waltz; Bulldog; Fatback Bubblebath.

Personnel: Frank Macchia: leader, composer, arranger, tenor sax, baritone sax, clarinet, contrabass clarinet, piccolo, vocals; Wayne Bergeron: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dan Fornero: trumpet, flugelhorn; Walt Fowler: trumpet, flugelhorn; Eric Marienthal: alto sax, flute; Brandon Fields: alto, tenor sax, flute, piccolo; Bob Sheppard: tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet; Sal Lozano: baritone sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, piccolo; Jay Mason: bass sax, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet; Alex Iles: trombone; Kevin Porter: trombone; Craig Gosnell: bass trombone; Bill Reichenbach: tuba; Ken Rosser: electric guitar, banjo, baritone guitar; Peter Erskine: drums; Brad Dutz: percussion; Tracy London: vocals.

Title: Grease Mechanix | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Cacophony

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