Fight The Big Bull – All Is Gladness In The Kingdom (CF 169)
Such an unwieldy band name and album title is almost perversely suitable for the ambitious music contained herein. Fight The Big Bull (FTBB) is, doubtless, dominant on the Richmond, Virginia alternative jazz scene, but possesses the powers to be equally noticeable on the much larger stage of, let’s say, New York City. From this very place, trumpeter Steven Bernstein made the pilgrimage by car, invited to be an artist-in-residence. He okayed a heavy schedule, but did he really realize how productive his stay would be? Gigs, workshops and, oh yes, the studio recording of this very disc. Bernstein took a pair of tunes and three arrangements, but FTBB’s leader, guitarist Matt White, also contributed strongly with his own majority of six compositions. The combination was eminently suitable. FTBB is a horn-heavy 11-piece that can move with ease from bell-chiming spaciness to severe charging, though the latter is probably its ideal state.
Bernstein is, unsurprisingly, dominant on the soloing front, his agile muted splintering often stepping into the foreground. This is not to say that the six other horners are much less extroverted. This is why Bernstein fits in so easily, as the band enjoys a similarly lusty approach to retro reclamation. Stalking themes grab the ears with both fists, as most of the tunes reel with memorable riffs that could certainly draw in many rock aficionados. The pieces are very visual, inhabiting genre zones that invariably inspire filmic connections: imaginary seedy activities relating to guns, drugs, monsters, chicks, fast cars and murderous machinations.
FTBB craves the climactic blowout. Much of its unusualness lies in the percussion patterns of Brian Jones and Pinson Chanselle (the latter a star of one of those movies?). When these atmospheric chimings are audible, this means that FTBB is taking a rest from its brawling, oily, big band barging, an occasional respite from the slugging, brutalist majority. Sluggingly brutal with a refined intelligence, of course.