Gordon Goodwin’s music has appeared in a number of films, including National Treasure and Armageddon, but his best-known work is probably the music that plays behind the opening credits to The Incredibles. In addition to his film work, Goodwin is a bandleader whose Los Angeles-based Big Phat Band is an 18-piece ensemble of some of the city’s best jazz musicians. That’s How We Roll is his seventh outing with them, if you include a 2009 collaboration with organist Dave Siebels. Goodwin composes most of the band’s music and handles the arrangements, in addition to playing piano and the occasional tenor saxophone.
Goodwin’s music shows a wide array of influences, including Ellington, ‘70s funk, Warner Brothers cartoon soundtracks, and Frank Zappa. There’s a healthy dose of humor in his jazz, but the arrangements are precise and well thought out. “Howdiz Songo?” has an Earth, Wind & Fire vibe, with a great thumping bass line and a Yamaha electric piano helping set the tone of the piece. The tight ensemble work includes some back-and-forth playing between the upper- and lower-register horns and deft handling of the shifting musical themes. Goodwin makes effective use of the trombones to add warmth and a fuller bottom end, and he moves the band effortlessly into a Latin jazz groove about a third of the way into the piece. Guitarist Andrew Synowiec has an exciting feature, as does trumpeter Wayne Bergeron.
“Rippin’ and Runnin’” also uses electric piano to set the mood, with the horns creating a Spike Jones / Warner cartoon effect. For all the fun in the tune, it’s a soulful romp featuring an exchange of great solos by saxophonists Dave Koz and Gerald Albright. “Hunting Wabbits 3 (Get off My Lawn)” lets Goodwin channel Carl Stalling, and you may find yourself reliving your favorite Looney Tunes moments. The tune effortlessly breaks into a swing pace, and in those passages it recalls Henry Mancini’s best jazz scores. Goodwin takes inspiration from a variety of sources, as Zappa sometimes did, to create ingenious pastiches. He doesn’t have Zappa’s satirical edge, but he shares his ability to make seemingly disparate elements flow together seamlessly.
That’s How We Roll benefits from Goodwin’s broad musical interests and his ability to write arrangements that let his band wail. The bop-like “Gaining on You” has a Stan Kenton grandeur, but it swings more like Count Basie and features a rare solo by the leader, who’s mostly content to add color on piano and conduct the band. “Never Enough” features Take 6 on vocals in a funky arrangement that demonstrates Goodwin’s ability to integrate recent styles of music into the scale and musical palette of a big band. He even convincingly tackles swing in “Race to the Bridge,” which the band plays at a brisk pace without running out of steam or ideas.
That’s How We Roll is well arranged and precisely played, and it often swings hard. The only lull is a take on “Rhapsody in Blue” that suffers because of the tune’s overexposure. The recording, mastered by Doug Sax, is pristine digital, and while I occasionally wished for a bit more warmth, the sound is detailed and the full soundstage captures the scale of the band.
. . . Joseph Taylor