BT ALC Big Band “Hearing The Truth” through the noise
The new soul-jazz funk album featuring G. Love, John Medeski, Adam Deitch, Karl Denson, Eric Krasno, Nigel Hall and Eric “Benny’ Bloom drops on April 14.
BOSTON (21 March 2023): The might and muscle of a big band is in all those horns. And that magical power became a serious challenge when COVID restriction prevented BT ALC Big Band from being in the same room to record together. That scene was the inception of the fifth album by the Boston-based soul-jazz funksters, “Hearing The Truth,” which drops April 14 on the Vintage League Music label.
Band leaders Brian Thomas (trombone) and Alex Lee-Clark (trumpet) produced and arranged the collection of nine original compositions featuring special guest performances by G. Love (G. Love & Special Sauce), John Medeski (Medeski Martin & Wood), Adam Deitch (Lettuce), Karl Denson, two-time Grammy winner Eric Krasno, Nigel Hall (Lettuce) and Eric “Benny” Bloom. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back to that first recording date in 2020 and how they made it work.
As the pandemic spread fear, and civil unrest sparked disharmony, tension and anger, and the looming presidential election fanned the flames of division, Thomas penned “Bring Forth Change” for the band to record.
“This was the first tune we remotely recorded after the pandemic hit, and it really set the tone for what this album became. Brian (Thomas) is one of the most positive forces I’ve ever come across, and the way he willed this whole thing into existence was amazing, and definitely gave all of us musicians a spirit boost as the reality of the pandemic set in,” recalled Lee-Clark.
Recorded remotely and later pieced together, “Bring Forth Change” became the ethos of the album on the super funky track bolstered by an anthemic affirmation captured in this imaginative cartoon strip-like video.
Teaming with Soulive’s Alan Evans, BT ALC Big Band recorded and released the joint as a single followed by two more singles that year. The groovy “What Will You Do” spotlights Medeski on trippy keyboards and the retro hip “The Iguana” boasts Krasno’s guitar and Denson’s saxophone.
A couple years later, finally the horn sections were able to safely gather in person to finish the final six tracks. “Dimples” opens the album.
“There’s something on the melody on this one that feels like it could be on the ‘Superfly’ soundtrack. It’s upbeat, but there’s a lot of emotional depth to it, too. This tune was written for Brian’s wife, Annette, who has the warmest smile complete with eye-popping dimples that can be seen from across the room. This tune and the trombone solo to me are quintessential Brian Thomas – in the pocket, relentless but calm and full of character. Guitarist Steve Fell is also the perfect Swiss army knife of a soloist and elevates the entire band to an epic climax,” explained Lee-Clark.
The album’s tentpole is the title track. It’s a blues-based, storming organ number written by Lee-Clark that he says references James Brown & The J.B.’s classic sound. Amidst the chaos of instrumental voices vying for attention, the trombones burst forth to lay the foundation for guitarist Jeff Lockhart to shred. Recorded during a surge in the virus, the band was masked up during the studio session, but you can almost hear the joy in being able to play together live, which they’ll do on stage at an album release concert on the release date at Soundcheck Studios in Pembroke, Mass.
Lee-Clark wrote the tension filled “Here In This Cave” about the little room in his apartment where he “musically survived the worst of the pandemic.” Deitch’s “Egyptian Secrets” gets a big band makeover, taking on new dimensions in the hands of BT ALC Big Band. G. Love flows and rhymes on the Wu-Tang Clan-inspired “That Sound.”
Lee-Clark said, “We tried a more hip-hop process recording this than straight up big band while still being us. Dean (Johnston) played that drum groove for about two minutes straight, and we took the funkiest grouping we could find and made a loop out of it, building everything else off of that sound. (Jeff) Lockhart’s guitars were actually recorded at my house with the intention of chopping them up and making similar loops, but when I listened back, amazingly, the two independently recorded takes totally lined up into this really original, intertwining texture. I’ve never heard anybody with a more unique and impeccable musical understanding of what sounds right than Lock(hart).”
Sensing something was missing, Thomas and Lee-Clark decided to up the funk quotient by writing a Go-Go song for the disc. “Pound For Pound” is a party in which the solo spotlight is shared equitably while erupting into a “Soul Train”-line dance-off.
BT ALC Big Band’s previous outing, “The Search For Peace,” hit the year before the lockdown. The outfit debuted ten years ago with the “Superhero Dance Party” album. In addition to recording and playing gigs at clubs, theaters and festivals, Thomas and Lee-Clark are committed educators throughout the New England region where they teach clinics and workshops and perform with college and high school students throughout the East Coast. On a mission to create new potentialities for big bands in the modern era, Thomas and Lee-Clark acknowledge the influence of Duke Ellington and Count Basie in their crafty big band arrangements. They take the traditions of the past and fortify them with explosive soul power, Afrobeat culture, festive New Orleans nuance, and deft hip-hop beats and biting political commentary.
There’s so much soul and swagger throughout “Hearing The Truth,” but the most important element is BT ALC Big Band’s message. Lee-Clark delivers it.
“This whole record was really written in the teeth of COVID, the 2020 presidential election, and the dizzying experience all of us Americans are feeling as we reckon with our past and decide as a country what we want to be in the future. Through all those growing pains, there is a lot of noise. Everywhere you turn, you’re being inundated with new information, and it only seems to be getting faster. The music on this album is all about slowing down just enough to hear the truth in the noise. Plus, more plainly, ‘Hearing The Truth’ was written about Fox News, and all the charlatans on that network telling us not to believe the thing we’re seeing with our own eyes.”
BT ALC Big Band’s “Hearing The Truth” album contains the following songs:
“Hearing The Truth”
“Here In This Cave”
“What Will You Do?”
“Pound for Pound”
“Bring Forth Change”
For more information, please visit https://www.btalc.com.
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