The suave and irrepressible Rat Pack, whose urbane image was shrewdly nurtured for so many years by Ol' Blue Eyes, meistersinger Frank Sinatra himself, is no longer with us. Luckily, we have as partial solace The Phat Pack, the convivial third recording by jack-of-all-trades Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band. Goodwin bows respectfully to his illustrious predecessors by reprising two songs closely associated with members of the Rodent Gang, Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year" and Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Too Close for Comfort," also appending an evocative title song that could have served as the Pack's overture in a cabaret or concert hall.
One of the more engaging aspects of any album by Goodwin's exemplary ensemble is that one never knows quite what to expect from moment to moment as the music veers in a heartbeat from straight-ahead swing to funk, Latin, neo-hip shuffle and back againnot to mention such wild anomalies as "Hunting Wabbits 2," Goodwin's quirky salute to Elmer Fudd and those incomparable Warner Bros. cartoons from the '40s and '50s (for "Hunting Wabbits 1," see the BPB's previous album, XXL).
Needless to say, the all-star band is razor-keen throughout, lending power and charisma to Goodwin's personable compositions and charts. Soloists aren't named, but that has to be Eric Marienthal's nimble soprano on "Wabbits," his aggressive alto on "Get in Line" and "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes," Andy Martin's supple trombone on "Tomatoes," Wayne Bergeron's screaming trumpet on "La Alma Pequena (The Little Clam)." That's ironic, as clams are almost never a part of Bergeron's musical diet.
As usual, Goodwin has invited several well-known guest artists to sit in, and all of them are superb. Vocalist Dianne Reeves positively nails "Too Close for Comfort," alto David Sanborn is suitably raunchy on "Play That Funky Music," ace clarinetist Eddie Daniels burns rubber on the grueling "Under the Wire," and the vocal group Take 6 takes charge on "It Was a Very Good Year." Another Goodwin staple is the patriotic finale, in this case the poignant "Ever Braver, Ever Stronger (An American Elegy)."
So much to say, so little space remaining. Highlights (besides those already mentioned) include "Cut 'n Run," "Count Bubba's Revenge," "Whodunnit?" Well, let's be honest. Everything else. And it should be noted that the disc is accompanied by a DVD with soundtrack, photos, lyrics and other extras. Alas, I was unable to play my copy, as it requires a compatible Direct Show DVD player, which I don't have. As Sinatra would have intoned, "That's Life."
Goodwin's debut album, Swingin' for the Fences, was Grammy-nominated, XXL earned one (in a minor category), and if this isn't a leading contender for the top big band prize, I'll eat broccoli (yuck!) with my supper (please don't tell my wife I said that).
Gordon Goodwin: leader, composer, arranger, piano, tenor saxophone; Wayne Bergeron,
Dan Fornero, Bob Summers, Dan Savant, Pete DeSiena (4,6,12): trumpet; Eric Marienthal:
alto, soprano saxophone, flute; Sal Lozano: alto saxophone, flute, piccolo; Brian Scanlon,
Jeff Driskill: tenor saxophone, clarinet; Jay Mason: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet; Andy
Martin, Alex Iles, Charlie Morillas, Craig Ware, Craig Gosnell (2): trombone; Grant
Geissman, Carl Verheyen (4): guitar; Rick Shaw: acoustic, electric bass; Bernie Dresel, Ray
Brinker (10,11,13): drums; Luis Conte, Brad Dutz (4,6,12): percussion. Special guests:
Diane Reeves (2): vocal; David Sanborn (4): alto saxophone; Eddie Daniels (10): clarinet;
Take 6 (12): vocal.
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