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Debut album from Big Beat

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    Posted: 04 Nov 2019 at 8:25pm

The big band jazz sound has gone through many variations in its 100+ year history. From the earliest days in New Orleans, through the Swing era, to the modern, progressive jazz interpretations of Thad Jones in the 1960s and Sun Ra's avant garde Arkestra in the 1970s, the big band sound has remained an important part of the American music soundscape, growing and changing with the times. Now, BIG BEAT,a band comprising mostly younger musicians, has taken up the big band mantle, imbuing the music with a contemporary edge while still hewing to the traditional big band spirit.
SOUNDS GOOD, FEELS GOOD is Big Beat's first full-length project. They previously released two EPs: one in 2017, recorded live on the college station 88.7 - Brave New Radio - and another in2015. SOUNDS GOOD, FEELS GOOD, like their previous recordings, is a swinging, high-energy party of original, pop, and R&B tunes. It's performed by a 19-piece orchestra made up of the some of the finest up-and-coming East Coast musicians who are destined to populate the upper echelons of the jazz firmament.
The co-leaders and founders of the band are four young men who all graduated with Master's Degrees in Jazz Arranging from William Paterson University in New Jersey. They are bassist CHARLIE DOUGHERTY, saxophonist PHIL ENGSBERG, trombonist CALEB RUMLEY, and pianist RYAN TOMSKI. In addition to their mastery of their respective instruments, each one is a top-notch arranger and composer.
The band coalesced in July 2014. They all loved big band music and were writing and arranging swing tunes with a funk, gospel, soul, and R&B feel. It wasn't easy finding bands to play their music, so they decided to form their own. One of the first things they did was bring on board vocalist ALLISON MCKENZIE, a young woman with a powerful but lyrical voice that easily bridges the jazz and pop worlds. She is a superb songwriter and contributed four original tunes to this album. McKenzie and Rumley were dating when she joined the band. Since then, they have gotten married and now have an adorable baby.
Big Beat is made up of 5 saxophones, 4 trombones, 4 trumpets, guitar, piano, bass, drums, vocals, and a conductor. The 19 musicians on SOUNDS GOOD, FEELS GOOD have been members of Big Beat almost from its inception, and all, despite their busy and often conflicting schedules, make the time to regularly perform with the band.
Although the leaders of Big Beat are millennials, the members of the band cross generations. PETE McGUINNESS, an educator at William Paterson University and a mentor to the band's founders, produced the album. McGuinness is a trombonist who has received several Grammy nominations and has worked with the likes of Maria Schneider and Charles McPherson. He also fronts his own eponymous jazz orchestra. MIKE SPENGLER, who plays lead trumpet, was a member of Diana Ross and Bruce Springsteen's horn section. CHRIS ROGERS, another member of the trumpet section, has played extensively at major festivals around the world, and bass trombonist TIM NEWMAN has played with top jazz acts like Winard Harper, Cecil Bridgewater, and Toshiko Akiyoshi.
The album opens with "I Wanna Talk With You," composed by McKenzie and arranged by Engsberg. This is a high-powered tune with a Tower of Power R&B vibe featuring a smoking bone solo by Rumley, who also conducts the band for this outing. McKenzie also penned "I'll Be Burning for You," arranged by Dougherty. The song is one of the band's earliest and is always a crowd-pleaser in their live performances. "All the Love," was arranged by Rumley and inspired by Stevie Wonder. "Miss America," the closing tune, was the only tune not arranged by a band member. It was arranged by trumpet maestro CECIL BRIDGEWATER, who has been a teacher and long-time supporter of the Big Beat leaders. He produced their first EP and asked to produce this song, which McKenzie wrote in response to the racially-motivated shootings in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015.
"A Penny for Your Thoughts" is another tune composed by a band member. Written and arranged by Engsberg, it's a funky instrumental that features an electrified trombone solo by ADAM MACHASKEE and a bass trombone solo by Newman.
The band also performs Stevie Wonder's pop classic "Knocks Me Off My Feet." The tune was arranged by Rumley who added horns that sound like they were arranged by Stevie Wonder himself. In a similar vein is Dougherty's arrangement of "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5, a high energy, mixed meter take on the Motown classic. For the vocal tracks on the album, the band brought in DENISE RENEE to produce McKenzie's vocals. Renee, who goes by the name Stout for her own performances and recordings, has performed and/or recorded with Alicia Keys, Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Childish Gambino, John Legend, and Harry Connick Jr, to name a few. "It's Love" was written by R&B/soul singer Jill Scott and arranged by Engsberg, who was greatly influenced by Gil Evans on this number. The song features layered harmonies and back-up vocals, all sung by McKenzie.  
Based on the modern jazz tradition, Big Beat's innovative arrangements bring the big band sound into the 21st Century with elements of funk, soul, R&B, and gospel. With McKenzie's soaring vocals and the band's tight-knit, spot-on musicianship, SOUNDS GOOD, FEELS GOOD, as the name indicates, is an album that undoubtedly sounds good and feels good.
SOUNDS GOOD, FEELS GOODwill be available online and in store on September 27, 2019.

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