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Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band: XXL

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Rest assured, big-band fans, that Gordon Goodwin is not trying to push those ensembles into modernity with his Big Phat Band’s XXL, despite his use of the word “phat.” While various styles are employed here, none of them would have discomfited audiences of the 1970s. Rather, Goodwin simply believes that “the big band genre can be contemporary, vibrant and alive,” as he puts it in the liner notes, and he’s written some densely detailed compositions and arrangements for his hand-picked band to play in an attempt to provide Exhibit A.

And there are certainly some hard-swinging performances on XXL. “A Game of Inches,” featuring a guest solo by Michael Brecker, ranges far and wide over its basic materials, and “What Sammy Said” delivers an enjoyable dose of brass pomp and swagger. Unfortunately, while enjoyable melodies, pretty sonorities and fine playing can be found throughout XXL, real fire and zest are rare. Sometimes Goodwin’s charts overwhelm his melodies with detail. “The Quiet Corner,” with its persistent burbling percussion, never actually sounds quiet, and “Hunting Wabbits” is too knotty and controlled to really take off in hot pursuit. Other tracks, like “The Jazz Police” and “Mozart 40th Symphony in Gm,” simply seem calculated more to sound pleasing than to stir emotions.

XXL is also available as a DVD-Audio disc, which works in any DVD player and provides, among other things, additional thoughts from Goodwin on each track and a “Make Your Own Mix” feature where you can hear instruments apart from the full ensemble on certain tracks. This is some interesting stuff; if you’re thinking of purchasing XXL, you should definitely go DVD. But unless you value comfortable professionalism over real excitement, you shouldn’t purchase XXL.