A young composer from Jacksonville, Florida, Mica Bethea shows an impressive command of big band writing and arranging on this set. Traces of all the usual modern large ensemble influences can be heard in his work, but he also brings his own ideas to the table and creates something fresh and energetic.
This is a two-CD set with the first CD recorded in the studio and the second at a live concert. The opening track on both discs is a Herbie Hancock tune, "Hang Up Your Hang Ups," a gritty, bass-popping callback to '70s soul and funk with a density to the horns and bubbling electric piano that recalls Earth, Wind & Fire. The studio set continues with "Jonesin' For Thad," an obvious tip of the hat to Thad Jones that fits more hard-grooving funk into a mainstream jazz context.
"Tenderly" shows Bethea's ability to create a memorable ballad arrangement, with the trombone section spreading the melody around like warm butter while individual players Gina Benalcazar, Lance Reed and Corey Wilcox all take solos over an instrumental bed led by guitar and electric piano. "Frahm Out Of Nowhere" toggles between swirling funk and driving brass lines, and features James Tootie Hogan's frantic guitar, Dennis Marks' careening electric bass and Juan Carlos Rollan's hot, crazed tenor.
"Coal" starts out with a strutting swing, as Eric Rheim flows easily in his tenor solo before the tempo shifts to a blistering mambo and Rollan comes roaring on top again. "Our Love Is Here To Stay" is performed with a sleek Latin arrangement that presents singer Linda Cole, whose husky melodism recalls the late Rosemary Clooney. "Birth Rite" is Bethea's foray into the more impressionistic universe of Gil Evans and Maria Schneider, a mellow swirl of intermingled brass and reeds that leads to Joshua Bowlus' placid piano solo. "Wind Warriors" ends the disc; a complex selection of lively, cinematic motifs, it incorporates buzzing guitar, and intricate soprano sax and trumpet solos, all set to a moderate but relentless Latin rhythm.
The concert disc carries over six titles from the studio set and, as might be expected, they all get cranked up a bit in front of an audience. "Hang Up" digs even deeper into the funk; "Jonesin'" and "Coal" are tighter and livelier; "Frahm" features Steve Gallatin's burning psychedelic guitar; and "Birth Rite" makes space for extended interplay between piano and soprano sax.
As for the new pieces, "Self Defense" is another gritty mix of electric jazz-rock rhythms and driving horns; "Just Friends" is an up-tempo driver featuring high-flying, intertwined trumpet and Scott Dickinson and Daniel Dickinson's alto sax; and "Stormy Weather," a second vocal feature for Cole, fronting sliding reeds and brass, and tinkling electric piano.
Mica Bethea has a way of combining big band sections and voices while underpinning his writing with driving funk that gives his work an urgent originality. He doesn't quite sound like anybody else out there and it will be interesting to see where his career goes from here. For now he's made a very impressive first step.
STUDIO: Hang Up Your Hang Ups*; Jonesin' For Thad**; Tenderly*; Frahm Out
Of Nowhere*; Coal**; Our Love Is Here To Stay**; Birth Rite**; Wind
Warriors*. STAGE: Hang Up Your Hang Ups; Jonesin' For Thad; Birth Rite; Frahm
Out Of Nowhere; Self Defense; Stormy Weather; Just Friends; Our Love Is Here
To Stay; Coal.
STUDIO: Greg Balut, Ray Callender, Jay Forman*, Dave Champagne*, Jonathan
Ward**, Robert Vandiver**: trumpet; Ryan Bricknell, Corey Wilcox, Lance Reed,
Michael Nunez*: trombone; Gina "Badeeduh" Benalcazar: bass trombone; Todd
DelGiudice: alto sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Daniel Dickinson: alto sax,
flute, clarinet; Juan Carlos Rollan: tenor sax, flute; Jose Rojas*: tenor sax, flute,
clarinet; Eric Riehm**: tenor sax, clarinet; Mike Emmert: baritone sax, bass
clarinet; Josh Bowlus: piano, Rhodes; James Hogan, guitar; Stan Piper*, Dennis
Marks: bass; John Lumpkin Jr: drums; Terry "Doc" Handy: percussion; Aaron
Lehrian**: piano, string synthesizer; Ryan Slatko*: vibes, percussion, piano;
Linda Cole: vocals. STAGE: Balut, Champagne, Scott Dickinson, Ward,
Callander: trumpet; Bricknell, Wyatt Thomas, Reed: trombone; Benalcazar, bass
trombone; DelGiudice: alto sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet; Daniel Dickinson:
alto sax, flute, clarinet; Rollan: tenor sax, flute; Rojas: tenor sax, flute, clarinet;
Emmert: baritone sax, bass clarinet; Bowlus: piano, Rhodes; Steve Gallatin:
guitar; Marks: bass; Lumpkin: drums; Handy: percussion; Jonah Pierre, vibes,
percussion; Linda Cole, vocal.