Tag Archives: Bryan Hooten

Point of Departure review by Troy Collins

Fight The Big Bull – All is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)
The Richmond, Virginia based little big band Fight The Big Bull made waves in the jazz underground with their 2008 Clean Feed debut, Dying Will Be Easy. With adulatory liner notes written by trumpeter/arranger Steven Bernstein (Millennial Territory Orchestra, Sex Mob, etc.), the half hour demo session only hinted at the large ensemble’s potential. Their full-length follow-up, All is Gladness in the Kingdom, features Bernstein as co-producer, co-arranger and guest soloist, guaranteeing the band even greater attention.

Invited by bandleader and guitarist Matt White to join Fight The Big Bull for their next record, Bernstein’s liner notes recount a week’s worth of rehearsals, recordings, local workshops and live gigs. The results of this intense working regimen can be heard in their congenial rapport, further enhanced by a common language. Co-arrangers White and Bernstein share mutual interests, including a fondness for Duke Ellington’s lush voicings, Gil Evan’s sophisticated arrangements and Charles Mingus’ vibrant group interplay. Even the woolly distortion White and Bernstein use on cuts like “Mothra” and “Gold Lions” subtly suggest Evans’ rock and pop experiments, an acknowledged influence on Bernstein.

Despite its impressiveness, Dying Will Be Easy was heavily indebted to Mingus’ 1964 masterpiece Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (Impulse!). White shows great strides as a composer and arranger since that embryonic effort, sublimating his influences into well-crafted, episodic compositions. Delving into Bachian counterpoint and intricate polyrhythms as readily as New Thing-era expressionism and expansive post-minimalist vamps, White’s low pitched horn section adds heft to these sweeping charts, counterbalanced by a rhythm section that places as much timbral importance on kaleidoscopic percussion as the traditional trap set.

Beyond an intermittent use of EFX within the ensemble (as on the spacey “Rockers”), White’s guitar is the only electric instrument, other than a striking guest appearance from Eddie Prendergrast’s fuzzed-out electric bass. Playing an arranger’s role, White eschews the spotlight, comping chords and ferreting out serpentine ostinatos with the rhythm section. His primary strength lies not in his fretwork, but in his skills as a writer and arranger.

“Eddie and Cameron Strike Back/Satchel Paige” is an exemplary demonstration of White’s compositional acumen. The piece covers a wide range of dynamics, building slowly from a hypnotic bass ostinato accompanied by a thicket of braying horns, to a punchy percussion vamp that introduces J.C. Kuhl’s soaring tenor. Kuhl’s volcanic solo rises to a fevered pitch, buttressed by caterwauling horns at the climax, before the tune suddenly downshifts into a spare bass duet. Guest artist Eddie Prendergrast’s fuzz-toned electric bass drone shadows contrabassist Cameron Ralston’s brisk pizzicato break before Prendergrast launches into a probing cadenza of psychedelic proportions, culminating in a rousing unison coda with the band in full sway.

More than just an invited guest, Bernstein’s contributions to the date warrant particular attention. Culled from Sex Mob’s playbook, his phantasmagorical ode to the Japanese kaiju legend, “Mothra,” is a delirious fusion of metronomic backbeats, tortuous horns and acidic guitar figures. His expanded variation on “Martin Denny” (another Sex Mob tune), book-ends a boisterous bluesy interlude with cinematic impressionism, while his crafty arrangement of The Band’s “Jemima Surrender” opens with a rousing horn chorale that sounds like it could blow down the walls of Jericho. Bernstein’s solo statements are equally noteworthy. When White’s overdriven guitar riff descends on Bryan Hooten’s multiphonic trombone peals in the middle of “Gold Lions,” accompanied by Bonham-esque downbeats and Bernstein’s heavily amplified slide trumpet glissandos, alien vistas materialize – conjuring eerily familiar memories of a fictional past.

It is paradoxical that big bands – especially creative, risk taking big bands – would be making a come-back in such economically risky times, yet there is ample proof of their resurgence. Darcy James Argue, Steven Bernstein, John Hollenbeck, Satoko Fujii, Adam Lane and Maria Schneider all lead viable large ensembles that draw from the big band tradition without being constrained by the past. Add to this short list Fight The Big Bull. With any luck, All is Gladness in the Kingdom will garner them the acclaim they so rightly deserve.
http://www.pointofdeparture.org/PoD28/PoD28MoreMoments3.html

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Tom Hull reviews on his blog

Sei Miguel – Esfingico (CF 170)
Trumpet player, b. 1961 in Paris, lived in Brazil, based in Portugal since 1980s, lists 9 records (not counting this) on his website, going back to 1988 (AMG has one, not this). Plays pocket trumpet here, a nice contrast to Fala Mariam’s alto trombone. The other credits are Pedro Lourenço (bass guitar), Cesár Burago (timbales, small percussion), and Rafael Toral (some kind of electronics: “modulated resonance feedback circuit”). Rather schematic, and a bit on the short side (39:56), but he’s onto something that might be worth exploring. B+(**)
Jorrit Dijkstra: Pillow Circles (CF 166)
Dutch saxophonist, plays alto and lyricon, has 10 or so albums since 1994, based in Boston. This is an octet with a few American names I recognize — Tony Malaby, Jeb Bishop, Jason Roebke, Frank Rosaly — and a few Europeans I don’t. With viola and guitar/banjo, plus three users of Crackle Box (“a small low-fi noisemaker invented by Dutch electronic musician Michel Waisvisz”). Only instrument that registers much for me is Bishop’s trombone. Otherwise I find it vaguely symphonic, swooning in swirls of slick harmony, but somehow it grows on you. B+(*)

Fight the Big Bull: All Is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)
Virginia big band, was 9 pieces last time, now 11-12, with Steven Bernstein the big name pick up. Erstwhile leader is guitarist Matt White, who wrote most of the pieces, save two from Bernstein and an old Band song (“Jemina Surrender”) that Bernstein arranged. Sometimes it seems like their main trick is to kick up the volume; sometimes it works really well. B+(***)

RED Trio – RED Trio (CF 168)
Rodrigo Pinheiro on piano, with Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. First album, I think. Based in Portugal, although Ferrandini was born in California, his father a Portugese from Mozambique, his mother an Italian-Brazilian he picked up along the way. Pinheiro plays prepared piano, making the instrument more percussive than melodic. Faustino’s bass sounds like he’s monkeying around too. The result is more avant noise than piano trio. I find it refreshing and exhilarating. A-
Kirk Knuffke – Amnesia Brown (CF 167)
Trumpet player — website announces he plays cornet now, but credit here is trumpet; originally from Denver, based in New York since 2005; has a bunch of new/recent records, including a duo with Jesse Stacken on Steeplechase, plus several trio records with various lineups. This trio includes Doug Wieselman on clarinet and guitar and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Wieselman’s guitar is surprisingly effective. His clarinet provides a contrasting tone which sometimes slows things down, but they mostly mix well. Nice artwork, although the back is impossible to decipher. B+(***)

Scott Fields Ensemble – Fugu (CF 171)
Chicago guitarist, has a couple dozen albums since 1993, of which this original 1995 recording was his second, brought back on a new label. Group wobbles between Matt Turner on cello and Robert Stright on vibes, the former slowing things down and sapping them up, the latter bristling with energy. Group also includes bass and percussion. Fields has some very nice runs, and the vibes are terrific. B+(**)
http://www.tomhull.com/blog/archives/1354-Jazz-Prospecting-CG-23,-Part-6.html

Free Jazz review by Stef Gissels

Fight The Big Bull – All Is Gladness In The Kingdom (CF 169)
***½
I am not a fan of big bands, even small big bands, yet there are some exceptions. Some of Charlie Haden’s albums for instance, or Carla Bley’s. And this one : Fight The Big Bull. The Band started with an excellent, but all too short “Dying Will Be Easy”, also on Clean Feed, two years ago. For their second album, Fight The Big Bull, led by guitarist Matt White, is a little more expanded. The band consists of Jason Scott, JC Kuhl and John Lilley on reeds, Bob Millier on trumpet, Reggie Pace and Bryan Hooten on trombone, Cameron Ralston on bass, Brian Jones and Pinson Chanselle on percussion. Eddie Prendergast joins on electric bass on one track. The featured guest star, composer and arranger is trumpeter Steven Bernstein, known from his work on Tzadik, the Sex Mob, MOT.

On the upside, Bernstein is a great slide trumpeter and arranger.

On the downside, it gives the album the same distant veneer of all Bernstein’s work : great exercises in style and genre, with lots of attention to the entertainment factor and a demonstration of prowess that basically drowns feeling and authenticity.

The first album lacked some of the complexity of this one, but it was so heart-rending, authentic and majestic, full of dark drama, tragedy and deep-felt anger, whereas here, the element of distant playfulness is introduced, and it reduces the listening experience to something more middle-of-the-road. The band is still great, the playing good, but the end result is less compelling. I wish they had continued their original concept.
http://freejazz-stef.blogspot.com/

Monsieur Délire review by François Couture

Fight the Big Bull – All is Gladness in the Kingdom (CF 169)
Ô que je suis emballé par ce disque! Fight the Big Bull est un ensemble – on pourrait le qualifier de big band – de Richmond en Virginie. Pour cet album, son leader, le guitariste Matt White, a invité le trompettiste Steven Bernstein à y faire une sorte de résidence d’artiste. Résultat: un disque où White et Bernstein se partagent la composition. Fight the Big Bull adopte un style hybride qui emprunte à la tradition de Duke Ellington et au big band actuel (je pense en particulier aux ensembles de Fred Ho). Les pièces sont vives, riches, éclatantes, parfois dansantes, fortes en humour et en émotions fortes. “Mothra” de Bernstein ressort du lot, mais il y a beaucoup d’excellents morceaux ici, sur un disque qui fait dépasse les 75 minutes. Un disque confiant qui respire la bonne humeur, la camaraderie et l’audace assumée.

Oh am I thrilled by this CD! Fight the Big Bull is an ensemble – you could call it a big band – from Richmond, Virginia. For this album, its leader, guitarist Matt White, called in trumpeter Steven Bernstein as a sort of composer-in-residence guest. The result is a record where White and Bernstein share composition credits. Fight the Big Bull goes for a hybrid sound that owes as much to Ellington’s big band tradition than to avant-garde big bands (like Fred Ho’s ensembles, in particular). The pieces are lively, rich, bursting with arrangements, dancing at times, humorous, and full of rollercoaster-like thrills. Bernstein’s “Mothra” is a highlight, but there’s plenty more excellent stuff on this 75+minute record. A confident album full of good humour, camaraderie, and strong-footed boldness.
http://blog.monsieurdelire.com/

All About Jazz Italy review by Vincenzo Roggero

cf-108Fight the Big Bull – Dying Will Be Easy (CF 108)
Valutazione: 4.5 stelle

Nelle interessanti note di copertina, Steve Bernstein, leader dei Sex Mob, associa ciascuno dei quattro brani di Dying Will Be Easy ad altrettanti capolavori della musica orchestrale, citando Black Saint and the Sinner Lady di Mingus, New Orleans Suite di Ellington, Communications ed Escalator Over the Hill di Mike Mantler oltre che Art Ensemble of Chicago, Archie Shepp ed altri, per il particolare tipo di formazione orchestrale utilizzato.
Verissimo, e l’ascoltatore più attento e preparato riconoscerà pezzi di storia del jazz in ogni anfratto delle quattro tracce presenti sul CD. Ma quello che impressiona veramente in Dying Will Be Easy è l’impatto che il nonetto in questione riesce a creare dalle prime note, coinvolgendo immediatamente l’ascoltatore in un percorso che associa una fruibilità epidermica, tattile, ad un fantastico lavoro di destrutturazione e ricomposizione del materiale sonoro a disposizione.

L’ensemble respira come un unico organismo ma mai come in questa occasione si avverte chiaro e distinto il pulsare di ogni suo singolo componente. Ottoni e ance creano fantastiche trame timbriche che possiedono il nitore delle più frizzanti giornate di montagna nelle quali si percepiscono distintamente profumi e aromi ma dove è l’insieme che solletica i sensi e ottenebra la mente.

Sarebbe un delitto soffermarci su di un brano piuttosto che un altro, ma non possiamo non segnalare l’apertura della title track, con il trombone distorto che fa da apripista ad una sezione jungle dai toni sgangherati che si trasforma a sua volta in un ruspante beat campagnolo per l’incendiario intervento del sax tenore.

Dying Will Be Easy ha la struttura di un EP (poco più di trenta minuti) e la portata di un enciclopedia del jazz. Ma, soprattutto, è la geniale dimostrazione di come si possa attingere alla tradizione per produrre musica fresca, intelligente, curiosa e proiettata nel futuro. In un piccolo-grande disco pressoché perfetto c’è spazio solo per un appunto: per dirla ancora con Bernstein, “a little more guitar, Matt!”.
http://italia.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=3530

Tomajazz review by Yahvé M. de la Cavada

cf-108Fight The Big Bull – Dying Will Be Easy (CF 108 )
¡Madre mía, pero esto qué es! Uno cree que conoce, más o menos, a las nuevas voces de la escena y un buen día descubre una banda como Fight The Big Bull. Capitaneada por el guitarrista, compositor y arreglista Matt White, el grupo se presenta con una curiosa instrumentación (trompeta, saxo tenor, clarinete, dos trombones, guitarra, contrabajo, batería y percusión) y un pedazo de disco bajo el brazo.

Dying Will Be Easy tiene retazos de Mingus, de Ellington, de Carla Bley, de los Lounge Lizards y de Sex Mob, entre otros. Todo ello está comentado con una lucidez pasmosa por Steven Bernstein (que parece una influencia mayor en la música de White) en las impagables liner notes del CD. Pero aquí hay mucho más que influencias. Hay una banda madura, unos arreglos fantásticos y un concepto que, si bien está repleto de tradición, resulta de lo más contemporáneo.

Además de la pluma de White, hay que destacar la labor de unos músicos sólidos y eclécticos. A algunos de ellos se les puede escuchar en el debut del cantautor indie Josh Small, Tall by Josh Small, y otros llevan mas tiempo en la palestra, como el inquieto batería Brian Jones (un tipo lleno de proyectos) o el excelente saxofonista J.C. Kuhl, ambos miembros de la banda Agents of Good Roots. Entre el punzante contrabajo de Cameron Ralston y la sutil guitarra del líder (más sorprendente e ingeniosa que impresionante), hay un puñado de solos de altura firmados principalmente por Kuhl y Bob Miller.

Pero Dying Will Be Easy suena colectivo hasta el extremo y es imposible entenderlo como un grupo de voces independientes. La propuesta es fresca y emocionante, y solo se le puede recriminar la corta duración de este debut (algo menos de treinta y dos minutos). Aunque si hubiese durado el doble, probablemente seguiría haciéndoseme corto.
http://www.tomajazz.com/discos/breves.php?d=2009-01-01#ftbb_dwbe