Fight the Big Bull – Dying Will Be Easy (CF 108)
This nonet from Richmond, VA makes an impressive debut thanks to sharp tunes and arrangements by leader and guitarist Matt White. Drawing inspiration from the late, brass-heavy work of Duke Ellington and the dense instrumentation of the Charles Mingus classic Black Saint and the Sinner Lady the group excels with an ensemble-based approach, as deftly crafted harmonies and precise, contrapuntal blocks of sound propel the music. Despite influences that go back several decades, Fight the Big Bull possesses a thoroughly contemporary quality, using multi-linear improvisation, percussive clatter, and amplification to charge the work. As trumpeter Steven Bernstein notes in his liner notes, the distorted slide trumpet playing of Bob Miller on the title track borrows heavily from his own work with Sex Mob, and indeed, there’s a wonderful slurring quality to most of the slinking horn work.
Still, for such a young group White’s combo has already honed a distinctive sound, even if the various solos aren’t quite on par with arrangements. “November 25th” flourishes on hijacked, syncopated handclaps from flamenco paired with the probing bass of Cameron Ralston as a bed for improvisation, just one instance of how White understands dynamics. As thick as the group can sound, he also knows when to inject space into the mix. Elsewhere “Grizzly Bear” starts as a tough Henry Mancini-esque police show theme, which splits open for a jagged percussion discussion; Brian Jones appears to tap dancing on a pile of sheet metal. Here’s hoping White can keep the group intact. If his band members develop as improvisers there’s no stopping them.