Live at Sweet Rhythm
Newark Star Ledger Review Brooklyn Big Band never fails to serve up originals By Zan Stewart May 20, 2009, 12:57pm Brooklyn Big Band. When: May 25, June 1, and subsequent Mondays, 9 and 10:30 p.m. Where: Cafe Iguana, 240 W. 54th St., between Eight Avenue and Broadway, New York. How much: $10 suggested donation, no minimum. Call (212) 765-5454 or visit iguananyc.com. NEW YORK -- Delivering challenging, engaging originals with spirit, conviction and poise, the Brooklyn Big Band played a solid first set Monday at the Cafe Iguana in New York. The 16-piece modern mainstream band, another top-rate large ensemble on the New York-New Jersey jazz scene, was formed in 2000 by saxophonists, composers and arrangers Tim Armacost and Craig Bailey. They met in the early 1990s at a jam session at the club Dean Street in Brooklyn and played there regularly, often with many of the musicians who joined the 'BBB.' 'The energy in those sessions was so great that Craig and I wanted to try and put it in some kind of container,' Armacost said after Monday's first set -- for which altoist Bailey, out on the road, was subbed by Hayes Greenfield. The result, the BBB, has performed at several New York area clubs, including Sweet Rhythm between 2003 and 2006, and at the Iguana since February -- where it plays most Mondays, including this coming Monday and June 1. Visit timarmacost.com for information. The band's debut CD, 'Live at Sweet Rhythm' (Candid), is due out 'any day now,' said Armacost, whose website is timarmacost.com. His 'I'm Happy Anyway' was Monday's opener. As on each of the numbers, the music had a subtle-to-powerhouse drive provided by the writing, the horn players and the ace rhythm team: keyboardist Mike Eckroth, bassist Phil Palombi and drummer Scott Neumann. The medium-paced tune began with lilting passages from Armacost's soprano saxophone, Terry Goss' flute, and muted trombone and trumpet -- Mike Fahn and Riley Mullins, respectively. Gradually, more instruments were added, and the theme, with low-range saxes as a tantalizing bottom, came across lush and full. A pronounced band swell led to a strong held note, then trumpeter Waldron Ricks' solo. The trumpeter stretched out -- as did other improvisers throughout the set -- making the performance part large ensemble, part jazz quartet. Working a la Freddie Hubbard, Ricks' offered beguiling streams, hard-hit high notes, and more. Neumann kicked him all the way, and occasional band backdrops added interest. Baritone saxophonist Jason Marshall also let loose, his tone rich and dark, his enticing ideas running from colorful, songlike bits and long, animated statements to high gleaming tones. The alluring 'Ascent' -- another by Armacost, who has a masters in composition from Queens College, City University of New York -- again started with a few players, with others gradually arriving. It also started slowly, then got faster. Here, valve trombonist Fahn scored with a wealth of melodically juicy utterances and Mullins with some intricate high-end sounds. Over a sinuous bossa beat, alto saxophonist Greenfield was moving with singing-toned missives, gritty swirls, and dashing, intricate statements. Bailey's 'Soul Bossa Nova' had a slow, emotive theme via tenor saxophonist Keith Loftis, who soloed with warmth here, ardency there. The finale was Armacost's speedy 'Long Haired Girl,' evincing his vital tone, formidable technique and robust, inventive ideas that never seemed to repeat themselves. Zan Stewart is the Star-Ledger's jazz writer. He is also a musician who occasionally performs at local clubs. He may be reached at email@example.com or at (973) 324-9930. All About Jazz Review: After three years (on and off) of obscure gigs in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Big Band (BBB), co-led by alto saxist Craig Bailey and tenor man Tim Armacost, had it's long-awaited Manhattan debut at Sweet Rhythm (Aug. 2nd, 2004). The band struck a balance between tight and loose, beginning with an off-the-cuff "Take the Coltrane" and ending with Bailey's greasy "My Blues" (complete with a bracing scat chorus from trumpeter Larry Gillespie). In the BBB's ranks are fine players who should be better known: Bailey and Mark Gross on altos; Armacost and Keith Loftis on tenors; Charlie Evans on baritone; Jason Jackson, Dion Tucker, Tim Albright and Johannes Pfannkuch on bones; Gillespie, Jamal Monteilh, James Zollar and Matt Shulman on trumpets; Kelvin Shollar on piano; Phil Palombi on bass and Lieven Venken on drums. Armacost stepped up for a feature (and a sharp-witted cadenza) on his ballad "Animated," which was followed by Jason Jackson's bright "Brazilian Bop;" then an Al Cohn arrangement of "You Don't Know What Love Is," featuring Gillespie on flugelhorn, and finally the uptempo "40-Pound Limit", a showcase for Bailey and Gross' dueling altos. Merging a seamless ensemble attack with the flexibility of a combo, the BBB can compete with any of it's peers on Manhattan isle. - David Adler.