Big Band Theory
Sapphire Supper Club, Orlando • 1.29.98
Having already turned the Jacksonville area on to their dizzying brand of spiritual funk, Big Band Theory showed up for their first O-Town gig with enough personnel to staff the offensive line of the Jaguars. I never did get an actual count of who was on-stage, 12 or 14 people? Folks kept hopping up there — it never stopped.
They’re an interesting mix, a racially diverse collective of musicians who know what their individual jobs are. The opening number, “Chameleon,” cranked out funky, booty-shaking soul, but the follow-up, “Food For The Head,” delivered an infectious hip-hop groove with a throw-down rap by frontman/lyricist Ca’ron Marcelous. Dreads bobbing about upon his head, Marcelous tucked the jams into the backing beats provided by Eric on keyboards, Darin Peckham on bass, Tim Stombaugh on drums, and Johnathan Bishop on percussion. The Caribbean-spiced “Take It Easy” featured a syrupy brainwash of dual guitars from Aliade Bryan and Alex Kearson before launching into a sassy funk that found brasses and saxes creating a tripped-out real-time delay effect. All members, whether they were showcasing or not, kept a subliminal choreography going that gave the wiggy illusion of being by the oceanside — with the ocean singing to you. To make matters more mind-blowing, “Take It Easy” settled into a traditional ’40s big band swing before leaping back into the tropical tease of the main melody. It could’ve been Benny Goodman up there for a moment. Great googly-moogly, kids, tell me who plays the time machine in this group?
“El Niño” kicked in with a lounge-fortified salsa rhythm that was accented by trumpet-player Marcus Parsley who fired it up with a liquid flugelhorn solo a la Bill Cuthell. This piece in particular swung liberally between the urban rawness of hip-hop to the sweetly urging feel of sexy jazz. Tenor sax player Danny “The Brick” Bauerkemper sprayed sweet drops of phat and soulful honey during each song, notes that spiraled up into the stratosphere and remained there like a musical halo. Background vocalists Patrick McMillan, C-Note, and Vedia Johnson locked in the groove with tightly accented harmonies. McMillan emotes on “Zoom” that “if you steal, you will be stolen from/if you love, you shall have everlasting life.” This seductive pulse of a tune then morphs into the Brechtian stylings of “Evoloution” which feature a dark and brooding horn line with a masterful guitar solo from Kearson. Plenty of spirituality running as a theme throughout the songs — each tune is precisely more than just a jam. The nature of the chords and performances speak to this — no particular spirituality is addressed — but it’s there in a super-positive, hippie-fied sort of way.
The energy of the band was contagious, every member alive and in contact with the crowd. Marcelous announces, “we’re gonna do something really ill” and calls up bassist Peckham to play trumpet on “Spiritual Growth.” Suddenly, three other band members who were so recently handling other duties, whipped out trumpets too. Brass! Brass, I tell you! Vinyl stylist DJ Therapy added some old-school scratching and percussive beats to this tune; a funked-up double trip of a song that emulates the give and take of DJ mastery with guitars and bass dropping out and then joining the mix. The band had excellent control, executing volume changes with a fervor. “King Like My Father” breaks out with the nasty South Crenshaw vibe of clean, crisp surf guitar and a loping bass groove that erupts into a large-scale funkified celebration; something the band likes to call “hip-hop jazz-fusion.” “Betcha Feel This” featured a mind-blowing battle of the trumpet players and a nose-punching synth solo from Eric that stuttered and fluttered rhythmically like playing cards in your bicycle spokes. Marcelous’ rhymes and riddims are tribal in their feel, eloquent and plain-spoken simultaneously. This raw and edgy kick was evident on the hypnotic “Spoken Words,” which brought back more slippy delivery from DJ Therapy. Throughout the evening, this already huge band invited other members to jump on-stage and help out with duties, most notably Esquire — who threw some beat box into the mix — and Bert Parsley fired it up on drums during “Inspiration.”
Big Band Theory is a tight groove machine that easily slides between traditional groove/funk rhythms and progressive jams that journey into a whole other Zip Code. The Sapphire crowd ate it up, and by the time the band had launched into the sleek musings of “Serious,” it was clear that some of the feet on the dance floor just couldn’t take anymore. For a first-time showing, the band proves that it can play away games just as funky. Be sure to catch this act when they swing around for a second soulful assault.