Jamie Begian Big BandBig Fat GrinInnova Records
If the music on Jamie Begian's Big Fat Grin were any bigger and fatter, the grin would challenge that of Lewis Carroll's Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. No, not the cat that appears in Tim Burton's film, because that image is too phantasmagorical, but rather the wonderful, original creation that appears in the book. It is there that the image is charming, mischievous and truly iconic.
In many respects, Jamie Begian's music has all of that character, making the big fat grin of the music by the big band on this album more than a wonderful metaphor. Indeed it embodies all the mischief and character of Carroll's creation and thus the music becomes a remarkable allegorical tale, on that is richly described in the title track through solos that unravel like dense whorls from the exact report of the downbeat. The rapid cyclical thrust of each soloon guitar, bass and tenor saxophonecreates a spectacularly playful image and then, remarkably, when the ensemble returns, the whole theme inverts itself until the sound fades like the disappearing body of the cat in the tale.
However, not only the title track, but all of the music actually wears this fabulous grin. The southern swagger of "Funky Coffee" is driven by a delightful cacophony of brass and winds and an almost drunken rhythm section. The song's changes are based around those of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" and the dancing nature of the piece is quite seductive. "Halay" dances like a team of dervishes and kicks up a storm that thundering and shimmering at the speedy and electrifying hands of drummer, Peter Retzlaff, before returning to its ululating Turkish theme. The charged ions of the song draw everything into a sort of vortex that is stirred up magnificently by the ensemble. "Patience" is a more serious song, based on a tantalising diatonic phrase. However, if the image of the Cheshire cat may be used here, Begian may have found a way to express the joke of its beheading in the Alice story, where it continues to disappear until all that remains of it is the smile, thereby tricking the Queen of Hearts into calling the whole thing off.
Trickery is the name of the game in the four-part suite that Begian entitled "Tayloration," which is an endless series of variations on the trombone exercises designed by a mentor: Dave Taylor. The suite is a superb vehicle for the trombonists in the ensembleJeff Bush in "Tayloration One," who develops the theme tauntingly offered by the ensemble that provides an incessant gymnastic, contrapuntal distraction. The exercise continues through to the next segment with trombonist Paul Olenick. The bleating heart of Ernie Watts is featured on "Tayloration Three," a superb voice-like exploration of the theme by an up and coming trombonist. The suite closes with a marvellous stretch by bass trombonist Max Seigel.
As a composer, Begian brings a fresh attitude and perspective to the big band. Not only that, he also makes memorable use of color and employs musical timbres in opposition to create alternating sequences with dramatic, dissonant effect. This is what makes "Suddenly, Summer Falls" one of the most unforgettable experiences on Big Fat Grin. The challenge that Jamie Begian is going to have to deal with, going forward, is to keep the music's spirit intact as it emerges from the reservoir of sound he has access to. But judging by the puckish humour of this album, with its remarkable twists and turns, that should hardly be a stretch.
Tracks: Funky Coffee; Halay; Patience; Suddenly, Summer Falls; Tayloration One; Tayloration Two; Tayloration Three; Tayloration Four; Big Fat Grin.
Personnel: John O'Gallagher: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone; Marc McDonald: alto saxophone, clarinet; Ben Kono: tenor saxophone, oboe, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Dimitri Moderbacher: tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet, soprano saxophone; Dan Goble: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Tom Goehring: trumpet, flugelhorn; Dave Scott: trumpet, flugelhorn; Marty Bound: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jason Colby: trumpet, flugelhorn; Jeff Bush: trombone; Deborah Weisz: trombone; Paul Olenick: trombone; Max Seigel: bass trombone; Dave Ambrosio: bass; Bruce Arnold: guitar; Peter Retzlaff: drums; Jamie Begian: guitar.