TERRY GROSS, host:
Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says, in our globalized musical environment, you never know where the next distinctive jazz band or composer is going to come from. In the case of the album he reviews today, it's Richmond, Virginia.
(Soundbite of song "Dying Will Be Easy")
KEVIN WHITEHEAD: That's a nine-piece little big band from Richmond, Virginia called Fight the Big Bull. I'd never heard of them before their new CD, "Dying Will Be Easy," came out. But they grabbed me 30 seconds in when that buzz saw guitar reared up. The guitarist is the leader, Matt White, who put the band together three years ago when he was fresh out of college. He doesn't often put himself out front. He likes to blend his guitar with the band's horns, including a pair of woozy trombones. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The "buzzsaw" sound is a distorted trombone played by Bryan Hooten.]
(Soundbite of song "Grizzly Bear")
WHITEHEAD: The edges can get blurry, but that's part of the plan. Leader Matt White has done a good job of analyzing his musicians' strengths and allowing for their weaknesses so they can further his vision or he can further theirs. White has a few groups, including a progressive folk band and a spontaneously conducted orchestra. That suggests the varied interests that feed this nonet. The album's title, "Dying Will Be Easy," is a quote from a song by White's all-time favorite musician, the Gospel slide guitarist Blind Willie Johnson. One tune is a lament for casualties of the Spanish Civil War.
(Soundbite of song "November 25th")
WHITEHEAD: Bob Miller on trumpet and Reggie Pace on trombone, two linchpins of this band. It's a little amazing how much talent there is in towns not generally regarded as jazz capitals, like Richmond, although it helps to have leaders around to bring out those talents. Fight the Big Bull get a throaty, vocalized sound closer to choral singing than Stan Kenton. Composer Matt White will start with one catchy tune, layer countermelodies over it, break it all back down and start building the next wave. But he's limited by the band's size. With only nine players, you can't get too carried away.
(Soundbite of music)
WHITEHEAD: I like this band, but don't want to oversell it on the basis of a four-tune album that's barely over a half-hour long. The CD "Dying Will Be Easy," which is on Portugal's ultra-hip label Clean Feed, was originally intended to be a demo. In fact, it showcases the first four pieces Matt White composed for Fight the Big Bull. There are a couple more recent ones at the band's MySpace page. It's as if they hit a home run their first time at bat. Impressive as hell, but it makes you curious how they'll do the next time they step up to the plate.
GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is on leave this year from the University of Kansas and is a jazz columnist for emusic.com. He reviewed "Dying Will Be Easy," the debut recording by the band Fight the Big Bull on the Clean Feed label. You can download podcasts of our show on our website freshair.npr.org.