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Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band: Act Your Age

Act Your Age, the fourth album by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band (not counting its soundtrack for the film Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas), is of a piece with the group’s first three releases, another relentlessly eclectic collection that is, at least for most of the first half of its running time, less interested in developing the modern possibilities of the big band than in merging the big-band sound to other styles. Goodwin has always brought in seemingly unlikely guest stars to create pop and rock hybrids, whether it was Johnny Mathis singing “Let the Good Times Roll” (on 2003’s XXL) or David Sanborn leading the group on “Play That Funky Music” (on 2006’s The Phat Pack). He has been rewarded with unusually strong sales for jazz, in the range of 14-20,000 copies per release.

And he’s up to the same sort of thing here, for example bringing in Patti Austin to sing Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September,” with Lee Ritenour adding rockish electric guitar solos. Other guests include Chick Corea (revisiting “Señor Mouse”) and electric bassist Nathan East (thumb-popping his way through “Act Your Age”). Ritenour returns along with Dave Grusin on piano for “Punta Del Soul,” which a casual listener, happening into the room, could easily mistake for Steely Dan. All of that may give traditionalists pause, but they are likely to reserve special ire for the version of “Yesterdays” that employs “Art Tatum” on piano. Not only has Tatum been gone these 50-plus years, of course, but the piano track is actually a Diskclavier recreation, not a recording of Tatum himself.

Yet these unorthodox approaches to big-band music should give some indication of Goodwin’s aggressive desire to reinvent the form, and for about half of the album, that’s what he and his group do, sans guests and gimmicks. The writing is full of interesting juxtapositions of the sections and surprising rhythmic turns, and the playing is consistently sharp and engaging. Since this is a 75-minute disc (including the reggae-tempo download-only bonus track “Floating Home”), even without the tricks there is a full-length album’s worth of excellent modern big-band music here.

Originally Published