Gordon Goodwin and his Big Phat Band move (and groove) with the times on their propulsive new album The Reset — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
Running the gamut from freewheeling fusion and funky shuffles to soulful balladry and sophisticated swing, the latest cinematic offering from award-winning artist Goodwin and his mighty ensemble covers plenty of stylistic and sonic ground over the course of its briskly paced 27-minute run. Unlike jazz that remains frozen in the amber of the past, The Reset changes and charges almost as fast as life does these days. And that’s by design, says its creator.
“Our collective experience dealing with the Covid-19 virus led to a lot of change in our world,” explains the acclaimed veteran sax player, pianist, composer and arranger. “This … was my attempt to reflect on some of the changes I felt in my life.“
The difference is clear from the opening bars of the dynamic and complex opening title track. The intricately woven, high-octane shape-shifter hits the ground running, powered by a muscular backbeat and a darkly urgent bassline. Laced with aggressive brass blasts and flecked with blazing guitars and complex arpeggios, the challenging and compelling cut falls midway between a spy-movie soundtrack and one of Frank Zappa’s jazzier outings.
“There is less emphasis on melody and structure with more free association, compositionally speaking,” Goodwin says of the song. “We also brought in more programming elements to enhance the performance of the Phat Band, like synth textures, drum loops, and SFX. But the focus of this track remains the amazing human beings that perform the music and this track represents one of our very best efforts. This music is very hard to categorize, which is just the kind of thing we like to do!”
The rest of the engaging disc keeps the bar high. The spry Six Feet Away is “another song that reflects our collective experience in the past months,” the bandleader says. “This is a funky shuffle with a little sass, but also a light dusting of positivity, something we’ve all needed in the recent past. The rhythm section pops and the horns sizzle on this track.” Through The Fire updates a classic from the iconic Chaka Kahn. “That’s a pretty high bar to clear, but vocalist Vangie Gunn delivers a performance that honours the original while giving her own take on this great song. The Big Phat Band gives her just the right support, as the arrangement moves from mellow and romantic to funky and passionate.”
The EP’s final cuts pay tribute to composer and arranger Sammy Nestico, best known for his work with Count Basie. The swinging, self-explanatory My Man Sam is Goodwin’s salute to the influential artist, who died in January 2021 at age 96. “I cannot overstate the inspiration I got from Sammy,” Goodwin says. “Indeed, it was a Sammy Nestico chart that first planted the idea in my 13-year-old head that I could — maybe — write big band music myself. He was a dear man and a good friend and this song was written as Sammy was transitioning. The music conveys Sammy’s enduring positivity and sense of gratitude, qualities you can hear in every note he wrote. I hope we did him justice.”
The disc wraps with the bright and bouncy Cell Talk, the last chart that Nestico wrote. “The chart is a marvel and shows how, up to the end, he was searching and growing and looking for new ways to express his musical instincts. This track represents the only arrangement in the entire Big Phat Band recorded catalog that I didn’t write. But, come on — it’s a Sammy chart! Sammy’s last chart. I get chills just thinking about it.”
Having amassed 21 Grammy nominations, four Grammy wins and three Emmy wins, Goodwin is the most-decorated big-band leader in the 21st century. With his Big Phat Band, an internationally known ensemble with a reputation as one of the most exciting in jazz, Goodwin has released eight critically acclaimed records, including Life in the Bubble, which garnered four Grammy mominations and won the prize for Best Large Ensemble Album. Their previous release The Gordian Knot included an eight-minute remake of The Incredibles (Goodwin won another Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement for his work on the animated feature). He has written and worked with Ray Charles, Christina Aguilera, Johnny Mathis, John Williams, Natalie Cole, David Foster, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Tormé, Leslie Odom Jr, Idina Menzel and Quincy Jones, to name a few.
The Reset was produced by Goodwin, recorded by Tommy Vicari, mixed by the pair at LAFX Studios and mastered by Paul Blakemore. Musicians on the album include Goodwin (piano, tenor sax, soprano sax), Eric Marienthal (soprano sax, alto sax, flute), Sal Lozano (alto sax, flute, piccolo), Brian Scanlon (tenor sax), Jeff Driskill (tenor sax) and Jay Mason (baritone sax, bass clarinet). Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Mike Rocha and San Savant played trumpet and/or flugelhorn, while Andy Martin, Charlie Morillas, Francisco Torres and Craig Gosnell played trombone. Ray Brinker is on drums, Kevin Axt handled bass duties, Will Brahm played guitar, Joey DeLeon took care of percussion, and Vangie Gunn contributed vocals.