Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band : The Reset Review
by Darnell Jackson
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band has expanded people’s concept of what a big band should be and sound like since Goodwin formed the band in 2000. Goodwin, a keyboardist and woodwind player, has built a larger-than-life reputation for composing, arranging, and his playing skills throughout the music industry. Ray Charles, Christina Aguilera, Johnny Mathis, Toni Braxton, John Williams, Natalie Cole, David Foster, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, Brian McKnight, and Quincy Jones are just a few artists with whom he has worked. Goodwin has also conducted world-renowned symphony orchestras in Atlanta, Dallas, Utah, Seattle, Toronto, and London. For his work, Goodwin has amassed 21 Grammy nominations, four Grammy wins, and three Emmy wins, all making Goodwin is the most-decorated big-band leader in the 21st century. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band is now releasing The Reset. Written and arranged by Goodwin, the 5-song EP reflects on some of the changes during Covid-19. A departure from most of their other material, there is less emphasis on melody and structure with more free association, compositionally speaking. In addition, the album features programming elements like synth textures, drum loops, and SFX. To highlight the incredible musicians in the 18-person Big Phat Band, multiple mixes were created, each one featuring a different soloist, including Eric Marienthal (soprano sax), Jeff Driskill (tenor sax), Mike Rocha (trumpet), Francisco Torres (trombone), Gordon Goodwin on keyboard, guitarist Will Brahm and Brian Scanlon on tenor saxophone.
“The Reset” opens the project with a powerful composition that is modern and stunning in its power and energy. Brahm’s distorted guitar blends with the horns to create a wall of sound. The various layers build and interact with each other in flowing passages of counterpoint and voicings. Goodwin also creates a balance between the active sections and more open, relaxed sections. Brahm’s solo is a mix of rock and jazz, making for the perfect combination for this song. Marienthal’s soprano saxophone solo is developing as he uses the horn’s entire range to express his ideas. Vocalist Vangie Gunn tutti singing with the band is excellent, creating an ethereal sound that is enchanted. As always, Goodwin’s writing is impressive, and the ensemble’s performance is flawless.
For a more traditional jazz sound, “My Man Sam” is a tribute to composer and arranger Sammy Nestico, best known for his work with Count Basie. The swinging composition is a salute to the influential Nestico, 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.” Goodwin captures the clarity, joy, and balance that Nestico’s charts always contained. Also on the album is “Cell Talk,” the last chart that Nestico composed before his death, which is fantastic.
Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band brings us a stirring collection of songs with The Reset. Creating sounds of modern jazz to classic big band era shout choruses, The Reset will not disappoint with its virtuosic playing and tremendous writing. The chart by Nestico and Goodwin’s tribute is especially of interest to historical jazz listeners. Overall, this EP is something that needs to be added to the collection and savored.
Label: Music of Content
Release Date: October 15, 2021