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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fight The Big Bull - Dying Will Be Easy (Clean Feed, 2008) ****½

This is for sure one of the year's albums with the highest musical dramatic effect, a score for a bull-fight, for a lost war, integrating musical genres as if there was no difference between them : marching band, New Orleans jazz, flamenco, blues. And when listening to this band, there is indeed no difference, all these genres fit perfectly well, sharing the same emotional genes. The band, led by guitarist Matt White, further consists of Pinson Chanselle and Brian Jones on percussion, Cameron Ralston on bass, Bob Miller on trumpet, Reggie Pace and Bryan Hooten on trombone, J.C. Kuhl on tenor saxophone and Adrian Sandi on clarinet. The album is short, a little of thirty minutes, yet worth every second of them. The first track "Dying Will Be Easy", starts with a dragging marching band rhythm and atmosphere, leading on the listener into their world, like the throngs of village people following the musicians to the bull's final destiny. The second track "November 25th" is dark, with the horns in full counterpoint with the rest of the band, with flamenco handclapping supporting a brilliant trumpet solo, before the main theme starts again, cinematic and impressive. The third track "Grizzly Bear", starts with a full forward moving big band theme, but then rough and raw, disciplined with an edge, as an intro for a percussion solo, challenged in a duel with the bass, and with perfect timing, the band barges in again, with a fierce trombone solo on top. The highlight of the album is certainly the last track "In Jarama Valley", which starts as a slow blues, with the trumpet playing in deep emotional sadness. The title refers to the battle of Jarama during the Spanish Civil War, and the following lines capture the atmosphere quite well:

"There's a place in Spain called Jarama
It's a place that we all know too well.
For 'tis there that we fought against the fascists
And saw a peaceful valley turn to hell".

After the trumpet, the sax takes over, creating a little lighter mood at first, but when the rest of the band joins, full distress and despair ensues, with horns blowing in all directions, drums thudding and bass pounding, suddenly stopping for sparse guitar sounds and a wailing blues trumpet, for an even slower and sadder mood, heartbreaking as can be. If anything, it makes me think of Charlie Haden's "The Ballad Of The Fallen" in its grand sweeping theatrical display of sympathy with the underdog against the one in power, integrating all musical styles possible to demonstrate the universality of the theme, yet at the same time using the expressive elements that make these styles great and turning them into one big piece of an auditive story, the drama of mankind, but then compressed, condensed into half an hour of musical delight.

Listen and download from eMusic.