1. Hit the Ground Running 4:55 Featuring Eric Marienthal, alto sax
The funk and soul band from Oakland, CA called Tower of Power has long been
a favorite of mine, and this track is clearly inspired by them. This chart was written for the Westlake High School Jazz Ensemble, directed by Brian Peter. (My son Trevor plays bass in that band, so any wonder this chart had an active bass part?) The Phat Band horn section is razor tight on this, and the rhythm section, with Bernie Dresel on drums, Rick Shaw on the bass, Andrew Synowiec on guitar, and Brad Dutz on percussion, grooves like crazy. Eric Marienthal tears it up on his solo as only he can. You gotta dig that funk music, baby!
2. Watermelon Man 6:08 Featuring Gordon Goodwin, piano
How does one arrange an iconic tune like Watermelon Man? It’s kinda hard to improve on the original, so I tried a shuffle groove on for size, and the band roars through this chart with gusto. I get a chance to blow a few choruses on piano and then Wayne Bergeron leads the band through a slammin’ shout chorus, and caps the whole things off with a couple of double high C#s at the end.
3. September 4:29 Featuring Patti Austin, vocal and Lee Ritenour, guitar
We were anxious to dig in on this classic Earth, Wind and Fire tune featuring the Grammy winning vocalist Patti Austin. We’ve been doing some gigs with Patti lately, and as you can hear on this track, she ain’t no ordinary singer, folks. What a consummate musician she is! Patti brings new life to this song, and effortlessly slid into my arrangement as if she had been singing it for years. Lee Ritenour is right on the money with his exciting guitar solo.
4. Yesterdays 3:23 Featuring Art Tatum, piano
It seems that Art Tatum is a little underexposed to jazz fans nowadays. People know Herbie and Chick and Monk and Oscar, but Tatum, maybe because he died young (age 47, in 1956) isn’t as well known as he should be. Because this guy was operating at a level that few instrumentalists ever reach. And not just in regard to technical achievements either. Tatum was way ahead of his time harmonically.
In September 2007 I was asked to co-host a concert of Tatum’s music at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. This proved to be an astonishing night for me, as I watched and listened to a 9-foot Yamaha Disklavier Pro replicate Art Tatum’s music with startling accuracy. Through a remarkable new process invented by Zenph Studios, Tatum’s music was re-performed and re-recorded, but this time in on a beautiful new Yamaha grand piano. The same tunes that Art performed at the Shrine in 1949 for his “Piano Starts Here” record, but this time in 5.1 surround sound. It was at this concert that I started to fantasize about writing an arrangement around one of Art’s pieces. It was no easy feat, because, as you can hear, Art covers a lot of territory by himself! But I tried to find space for the BPB to support Art’s performance, and hopefully produce a brand new experience. It was a thrill for us to record this track with one of the greatest geniuses jazz has ever produced, and I hope that it might inspire you to discover more of this great man’s music.
5. Señor Mouse 5:01 Featuring Chick Corea, piano
Where do you start when you talk about a musician like Chick Corea? This music flows out of this guy like a faucet. I cannot think of a time in my musical life when I did not admire and marvel at the genius of Chick Corea, and it’s awesome to have him as a guest on this record. Senor Mouse was great fun to arrange, and Chick plays with his usual energy and vitality, and it’s great to hear him trade phrases with the band.
6. Punta Del Soul 5:09 Featuring Dave Grusin, piano and Lee Ritenour, guitar.
Dave Grusin has been one of our most accomplished and versatile composers for the past 3 decades. He has a wide stylistic range, yet is instantly identifiable on anything he writes or plays on. It was a privilege (and a little frightening!) to arrange one of his tunes, and I tried to come up with a treatment that kept Dave’s original intent, but dressed it in different clothes. His piano solo is immaculate and tasty, with a great sense of groove and time. Lee Ritenour, who is a long time friend and associate of Dave’s, chimes in with a tasty statement of his own, the perfect compliment to Dave’s solo.
7. Act Your Age 6:07 Featuring Eric Marienthal, alto sax, and Nathan East, electric bass
Our special guest Nathan East gets things started on this track with his earthy, funky and
always musical approach to playing the bass. His pocket feels so good, and the band responds with sass. Eric Marienthal’s alto solo is so energetic and exciting that it propels things to yet another level. We wrap things up as we started, with four huge, powerful chords.
8. Chance Encounters 7:37 Featuring Gordon Goodwin, soprano sax
Oliver Nelson developed a distinctive voice as a composer and a saxophone player. His method book “Patterns for Improvisation” was my constant companion when I was in high school. This track is a tribute to Oliver and to the unique sound he achieved with his writing. I love the softer textures on this track (Yeah, I know, a bit of a departure for us!) and check out Jay Mason’s bass clarinet work, Brad Dutz on the vibes, and front row playing a difficult flute soli with Sal Lozano leading the way.
9. Backrow Politics 8:09 Featuring Wayne Bergeron, Dan Fornero, Dan Savant, Bob Summers, trumpets.
It takes a brave soul to play the trumpet, especially at the professional level. Not only do you have the usual musical considerations that all instrumentalists must master, but you have an instrument that can be quite demanding physically. It can be a supreme athletic endeavor to get through a Big Phat Band concert in the trumpet section. But it doesn’t stop there –in Los Angeles, where we in the BPB live and work, it is fascinating to me to observe the complex level of political maneuvering that goes on from within the musical community. Each section in the orchestra has it’s own rules and guidelines, and to be a professional trumpet player in this town, you must know how to navigate that terrain. I wrote this tune as a tribute to the courageous souls in the back row of our band, and it’s a blast to hear them go at it. Check out their great teamwork as they play a difficult soli, after playing an extended improvised solo section.
10. East Coast Envy 5:16 Featuring Brian Scanlon, tenor sax and Andy Martin, trombone
This was commissioned by The Crescent Super Band in Salt Lake City, directed by Caleb Chapman, and as far as the title goes…well, let’s put it this way. To spite the old axiom, you can hear good jazz being played in many geographic regions of this country, in addition to the one next to the Atlantic Ocean. But you be the judge. Brian Scanlon on tenor sax and Andy Martin on trombone provide ample evidence to support my point.
11. El Macho Muchacho 6:14 Featuring Brian Scanlon, tenor sax and Andrew Synowiec, guitar.
There’s nothing like a good samba –I could write one per week if I had to. We have great fun playing this piece, and the band grooves right along, led by Bernie Dresel on the drums and Dan Fornero on lead trumpet. Brian Scanlon on tenor and Andrew Synowiec on guitar both contribute exciting and inventive solos, never once losing track of the various dominant 7th chords flying all over the place!
12. Gumbo Street 6:41 Featuring Gordon Goodwin, tenor sax, and Andy Martin, trombone
I set out to write a quasi New Orleans kind of groove tune, but this song kind of swerved off in another direction here and there! But we have fun playing this and the rhythm section really digs in on it. The horns play with just the right amount of grease, led by Wayne Bergeron on lead trumpet, and Andy Martin is right on target on trombone solo. The leader grabs a chorus on tenor sax on this one.
Bonus Track – Floating Home 6:24 Wayne Bergeron, trumpet, Bernie Dresel, drums, Brad Dutz, percussion
For some reason there are not a lot of big band reggae charts floating around, but it’s an awesome groove and why didn’t I think of this sooner? It’s a totally fun groove to play, and we worked hard to bring the right personality to the melody. Wayne Bergeron, plunger in hand, plays a strong solo here, followed by some skillful interplay between Bernie Dresel on the drums and Brad Dutz on percussion. Don’t read too much into the title, I’m into clean living, if you know what I mean!