Joe McCarthy Big Band / Vince Norman

Bright Future

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Saxist Vince Norman and percussionist Joe McCarthy got their D.C.-area big band together for a second round in Bright Future, the follow-up to 2007's Words Cannot Express. The result is in many ways outstanding and in many ways somewhat stereotypical. On the market today, there are both classic forms of big band (mimicking the stomp and swing bands of old) and entirely modern forms of big band (such as Chris Walden, also on the Origin label), both of which can be used in new ways, fresh ways, ways that show off the sheer virtuosity of the instrumentalists. Norman and McCarthy take something of an approach from the 1960s and '70s in their compositions on Bright Future instead. Cheerful, upbeat big band with a tinge of electricity in its execution (courtesy of Gary Malvaso's guitar for the most part), the music tends toward mood music, sounds that would have stood in for big-city ambience in film scores of the era. Still, there are a couple of interesting surprises when the music moves away from the simplest upbeat brass -- a surprisingly sweet melodica that mimics a French accordion in "Katelyn," the opening solos in Stanley Turrentine's "Sugar." The album might not be a full-bodied infusion of new ideas into big-band music, but it's a tightly performed set with outstanding musicians on the roster. Worth a listen for any fan of a strong brass section, expanded.

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