Life in the BubbleTelarc TEL 35453-02
Format: CD

Musical Performance: ****
Sound Quality: ****
Overall Enjoyment: ****

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band first attracted my attention when I heard their second album, XXL, in surround sound (DVD-Audio, Silverline 2882069). I thought that the band was fabulous, and the use of surround most clever and appealing. There’s no surround on this CD, of course, but Goodwin’s band still sizzles.

The Big Phat Band has always played in the swing-era style, with lots of surprises and contemporary twists. Goodwin writes: “This is a band made up of a group of musicians with diverse interests, and wide skill sets, and we have always striven to break down barriers between musical styles.” That they do, and the results are most enjoyable.

Life in the Bubble begins with the title track, a rhythmic romp driven by an electric-bass vamp. Drummer Bernie Dresel propels the next tune, “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things,” which includes bravura solo work from Kevin Garren on alto sax and Andy Martin on trombone. A loping rhythmic figuration provides the basis for “Synolicks,” which features the sax section, and scintillating riffs from ace guitarist Andrew Synowiec.

Each player is a virtuoso, but among them, trumpet player Wayne Bergeron stands out. In the funky “Years of Therapy,” he starts off playing piccolo trumpet, for a little-toy-soldier sound, then switches to regular trumpet. A delightful piece from beginning to end.

Eric Marienthal provides sensual, romantic alto sax playing for the album’s only ballad, “The Passage.” After two more upbeat tunes, Life in the Bubble ends with a trio of tantalizing tracks: a spy-worthy version of the theme from the 1960s TV show Get Smart; in a tribute to Oscar Peterson, a cover of “On Green Dolphin Street” featuring Goodwin on piano; and the nearly breathless, pounding, virtuosic “Party Rockers,” featuring the song’s composer, Judith Hill, on vocals.

The sound is not natural; each instrument seems to have been separately miked, and everything was mixed to a T in postproduction. But for this type of recording, it’s marvelous -- it may sound like a recording, but it sounds like a darned good one, and I particularly liked the solid bass lines throughout. Goodwin’s chart for “On Green Dolphin Street” won the 2013 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement. I see more Grammys in the futures of Goodwin and Telarc.

. . . Rad Bennett