If nothing else is known about Mica Bethea, it should be clearly understood that he has never been one to brush aside or turn away from a challenge. When Bethea was twenty-one years old and a student / musician at the University of North Florida, a horrendous auto accident left him a quadriplegic. For most people, that would be the end of the story. For Bethea, it was more like the beginning. No longer able to play an instrument, he turned to composing and arranging, his success measured by the acquisition of a master's degree, praise from many of his fellow musicians and the release of three big-band albums, of which Suite Theory is the latest and most ambitious.
Suite Theory itself arose from an ultimatum to Bethea from a teacher, bassist Dennis Marks, who challenged his erudite student to write a suite for big band that would recount the story of his life. Bethea set to work immediately and composed the suite in about a month, using the four-movement form of a symphony (the album's fifth and final track is an alternate take of the second, "Destiny's Boat"). As the opening movement of a symphony is generally written in sonata form, so it is with "Crystal Clear," which encapsulates the first twenty-one years of the composer's life. Its genial buoyancy (and handsome theme) portraying childhood to young adulthood are supplanted by a darker mood on the balladic "Destiny's Boat," which depicts Bethea's near-fatal accident and its aftermath.
The third movement, "Meniscus," focuses on Bethea's recovery and the start of his "second life" as a student, composer and bandleader, wherein he determined, in his words, that his glass was half full, not half empty, and that this was "a magical time in [his] life." It is a songo, whose Latin temper is splendid for dancing, as is the customary third movement (minuet) in a classical symphony. Bethea's opus ends with the fast-moving "Guardian of Forever," which he says represents a time-travel device in the original Star Trek television series. It is dedicated to the one who has been and always will be an essential part of Bethea's life, his mother, who gave up her career to help him recover and is, in his words, "the main reason I've been able to accomplish every goal that I've aimed for."
Having appraised the Suite and its genesis, it should be noted that Bethea's ensemble, comprised of first-class musicians from northern Florida, is exemplary, as are the soloists, especially Todd DelGuidice whose expressive tenor saxophone adorns both versions of "Destiny's Boat." Others include trumpeters Ray Callender and Daniel Rollan; saxophonists Daniel Dickinson, Juan Carlos Rollan and Jose Rojas; trombonist Michael Dease, guitarist James Hogan, pianist Joshua Bowlus, drummer John Lumpkin Jr., percussionist Terry Handy and bassist (and inspiration for the Suite) Dennis Marks.
As is "Crystal Clear" from the outset of <>em>Suite Theory, it is far easier to slow Mica Bethea down than it is to stop him. His proficiency as a composer / arranger has been growing apace, and Suite Theory moves Bethea one step higher on the ladder he has been so tenaciously climbing since life gave him a second chance.