If you have never seen Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band in a Small, Close Room, it is an experience I would heartily recommend. For sheer excitement, it is about the closest thing to actually being in the band – if you are a musician or just an air saxophonist, you will be tempted to stand up and take a solo.
Friday night, the eighteen musicians occupied every nook and cranny of the stage at Vitello’s. The guitarist seemed to be sitting in your lap. The conga player was wedged between Goodwin’s piano and the back wall — his rhythms floating unseen from the direction of Laurel Canyon. The baritone saxophonist was perched just in front of the curtained stage entrance; one step backward and he could have been the Wizard of Oz. The drummer, Bernie Dresel, sat smack in the middle of all this, cool and hip in black- rimmed glasses, looking like Steve Allen reincarnated in an argyle sweater.
If you are an acoustic purist, this may not be for you. There are just too many sounds colliding and reverberating between the low ceiling and around the walls. But that is hardly the point. This is a musical Funhouse. It’s a chance to get up close to precision section playing and scorching solos, not to mention a few young players who have infiltrated the roster of Goodwin’s veteran group of LA session men.
Goodwin, who handles the arrangements and plays mostly piano now, started this band a decade ago. He’s developed a rousing, hard swinging sound that borrows liberally from all points of the American jazz scene – over two sets Friday night there were nods to Benny Goodman, George Gershwin, Diz, Herbie and even Elmer Fudd. It’s all done with panache, humor and Goodwin’s trademark in-the-pocket groove, dominated by a front line of saxophones that doubles impressively on flutes and clarinets.
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