MICA BETHEA — Suite Theory (review)

MICA BETHEA — Suite Theory album cover Album · 2018 · Progressive Big Band Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
js
For the modern big band enthusiast who wants to keep up with what’s new, there is a name you should know if you don’t already, and that is Mica Bethea. Mica released his first big band album back in 2011, but then nothing until last year’s “Stage n’ Studio”, followed quickly by this year’s “Suite Theory”. What a difference a year makes as Mica’s new one shows him starting to really evolve and develop as a writer and arranger. “Stage n’ Studio” is a good CD and it pulled positive reviews, but on this new one, for the first time, Bethea has written every composition himself, and his compositions have grown in complexity and ambition. “Suite Theory” is a four movement composition that attempts to illustrate Mica’s life starting from a carefree young man to a post-car accident (entirely not his fault) quadriplegic, through post-accident depression, and finally to a life reaffirming decision to press on with his work as a composer. Certainly these are all vividly personal events that would make one reach deep into one’s creativity.

Movement one, “Crystal Clear”, is a swingin number that seems to reference Ellington as Mica’s opening melody is passed around among the various band sections as they introduce endless variations on the opening theme. The many wide open solos that follow continue the melodic variance. Movement two, “Destiny’s Boat”, deals with waking up in a hospital bed with one’s life changed in ways that no one could possibly anticipate. This track is more mysterious and the odd colorful orchestrations recall Herbie Hancock’s Sextet, or his “Speak Like a Child” album. Todd Guidice delivers a killer sax solo on this one, which Bethea liked so much that he closes the CD with a second take of this movement so that Todd could take his solo even further out. Movement three, “Meniscus”, carries an Afro-Cuban influence with more grooving solos. The final movement, “Guardian of Forever”, features long complex rapid unison horn lines that fall in between neo-bebop and an over the top prog rock arrangement. The rockin element is pushed by James Hogan’s guitar solo that is part earthy blues rock and part soaring Allan Holdsworth style fusion.

Modern big band fans need to take note, Mica Bethea is one that you need to check out as he looks to be in this for the long haul. Its truly impressive how “Suite Theory” has shown such growth in the areas of composition and arrangement, but if there is anything I miss from his previous album, it’s the hardcore funk of his “Hang Up Your Hang Ups” cover, and the neo-classical melody of “Birth Rite”. Given the strength of these last two albums, it should be interesting to see what Micah comes up with next, hopefully he won’t keep us waiting too long.
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