Every so often I come across writers that use their platforms and their tools as to narrow the field. These cranky scribblers come obsessed with notions of smallness, shrinking the world down to fragile components. The intention is to diminish and they largely and sadly succeed at not only alienating the curious but damning the creative on little more than personal whim. Genre hounds are especially common, like those who proclaim a certain genre or era of music as no more.
From where I sit, which coincidentally is in a lawnchair in the backyard, these writers are stagnant and dull. A refusal to take a risk on the grand and glorious New remains their cross to bear and their “small world,” after all, poisons everything with sickening, vile callousness and disregard for the ever-expansive nature of true art.
So what’s this got to do with the Jamie Begian Big Band?
Big Fat Grin, the ensemble’s second record, dreams on an enormous scale. Begian, the composer and guitarist, thrills with full, lush writing that embodies the view that art doesn’t die. Music doesn’t just stop. Putting pen to paper and thought to words and passion to sound will always exist as long as we have breath in our very lungs, so the narrow denial and faintness of some individuals is obliterated by the only thing that can obliterate ignorance: pure, unadulterated joy.
Joy is all over Big Fat Grin. The cornerstone of Begian’s writing, and indeed the performance of the entire big band, is that of happiness and passion. Genre trappings and musical “eras” be damned, this is deliciously thick jazz well worth smiling about.
The Jamie Begian Big Band was formed in 1998 and released its first record, Trance, in 2003. As the follow-up, Big Fat Grin is filled with power grooves and extravagant, big musical moments.
Take the Dave Taylor-inspired four-part “Tayloration” suite as an example. This quartet of movements allows for four very different trombonists in the Big Band to take hold of the reins. On “Tayloration One,” Jeff Bush paces himself to take charge of the delectably scattershot arrangement. And “Tayloration Three” introduces us to Deborah Weisz in a sweltering piece largely dominated by Marty Bound’s provoking trumpet.
The title track is a delicate bit of work that pays off with big splashes of colour. The guitar work from Begian and Bruce Arnold is intelligent and subtle.
Through it all, the Jamie Begian Big Band never compromises. Art is about expressing passion to others and Big Fat Grin‘s exploration of happiness is the perfect antidote to the crippling, soul-sucking process of narrow criticism.
Music does not die, even though the “industry” aspect may create ill will. Just as soccer still thrives passionately when kids string together a net and play on a grass field just for the joy of scampering around, so too does jazz thrive when imaginative musicians combine to express their love and scamper around for the joy of it.
Article originally published as I Hear Sparks: Jamie Begian Big Band – Big Fat Grin at Blogcritics.org