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In 2005 Mica Bethea was studying music at the University of Northern Florida when he was involved in a serious traffic accident that left him a quadriplegic. That ended his being able to play any musical instruments so instead he threw his energies into learning composition and arrangement. He has released two previous albums of music by his big band but this one contains his most autobiographical work, a suite dealing with his life before and after the accident.
Despite the potentially grim subject matter there is no real feeling of tragedy or sadness in this music. Bethea writes hard-swinging charts that burst with life and optimism. The opening section, "Crystal Clear," about his life before paralysis, has a particularly carefree, strolling sound. The frisky melody bounces from section to section and there are several bubbly solos laid down along the way by trumpeter Ray Callendar, trombonist Michael Dease and saxophonist Juan Carlos Rollan. The closest thing to a melancholy mood in the set comes on "Destiny's Boat," a slow ballad that has wary, minor key harmonies reminiscent of Quincy Jones' and Oliver Nelson's soundtrack work, and a gently ascending guitar and sax melody line. The piece also features billowing guitar octaves by James Hogan and a rich and thoughtful tenor sax solo by Todd DelGuidice.
"Meniscus" displays a surging massed sound worked into dancing Cuban rhythms laced with electric piano that again shows Bethea's ability to use brass and reed interplay effectively and gives Joshua Bowlus a chance to work out on the Fender Rhodes. "Guardian Of Forever" injects Bethea's affection for both the grooving and spacey sides of Herbie Hancock's 70's music with a combination of wah- wahing electric piano and intricate but funky horn riffs that give off an outer space vibe worthy of a vintage Star Trek episode. The composition also makes room for Daniel Dickinson's lyrical soprano sax solo and Hogan blazing on cranked up rock guitar. That is the end of the suite but the CD ends with an alternate take of "Destiny's Boat" featuring a second tenor solo by Todd DelGuidice that has a sharper, more virtuostic edge than the one on the main take.
This CD further shows that Mica Bethea is a talented big band composer who is shaping a distinctive identity. This suite, telling his personal story of perseverance and gratitude at being alive and able to create, contains some of his best and most original work to date.