Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band

Act Your Age

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Act Your Age Review

by William Ruhlmann

It isn't easy to keep a big band together, but Gordon Goodwin has come up with various strategies to maintain his Big Phat Band since its founding at the turn of the 21st century. Although the band is a vehicle for his writing and arranging, Goodwin has not been shy about bringing on eye-catching guest stars and trying new things, whether that meant having Johnny Mathis sing a number or Dave Sanborn contribute to a reading of "Play That Funky Music." He has been rewarded with Grammy nominations and stratospheric sales (for this style of music, that is) in the 15,000-20,000 range. Act Your Age, the fourth Big Phat Band album (not counting the group's 2006 soundtrack to Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas) again reveals Goodwin's marketing savvy. Deliberately offered up just before the deadline for the 2008 Grammy Awards, it boasts a bevy of guests including Chick Corea, who recreates his "Senor Mouse"; Patti Austin, singing a cover of Earth, Wind & Fire's "September"; electric bassist Nathan East, taking the lead role on the title tune; Dave Grusin, playing on his "Punta Del Soul"; the album's producer, Lee Ritenour, adding electric guitar to "September" and "Punta Del Soul"; and, um, "Art Tatum." The quotation marks are necessary since the Tatum contribution is virtual, courtesy of an electronic process by which a Tatum performance of "Yesterdays" from 1949 was digitized, then re-performed by a Diskclavier, accompanied by a big band arrangement provided by Goodwin. Traditionalists will cringe, of course, but Goodwin doesn't care about them. He cares about reanimating big-band music. Funnily enough, he does that most consistently on the tracks that don't have any guests or gimmicks, and they actually take up a good part of a long disc, just not, for the most part, in the early sequencing, where the guest stars are found. As the album goes on, Goodwin's charts turn out to be punchy and inventive, and he is abetted by a precise and enthusiastic ensemble. He may have included more tangential elements than big band fans would prefer, but there is some undeniable contemporary big-band music on this album. (On CD copies of Act Your Age, "Floating Home," the album's final track, is available as a download-only track, not on the disc itself.)

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