Don Braden and Karl Latham
Big Fun(k) Live
By Owen Cordle
Big Fun(k) is a synchronized rhythm machine. Not that it sounds mechanical; rather, each player primarily emphasizes rhythm, and all the parts interconnect—drum backbeats, bass grooves, keyboard riffs and colors and (mostly) pentatonic tenor saxophone figures. Joining leaders Don Braden (tenor sax and alto flute) and Karl Latham (drums) on this live session are Nick Rolfe (keyboards) and Gary Foote (bass). Except for the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” and Beyonce’s “Déjà Vu,” the compositions are originals.
The tunes invite macho tenor playing. Braden’s “The Funky View,” on which he solos with blitz-like swirling runs, is a technically dazzling example, as is his “Grover Miles,” which—you guessed it—mixes elements from Grover Washington Jr. and Miles Davis. There’s more Braden brilliance on “Having a Ball,” a solo tenor prelude to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” and the quartet gives the Lennon/McCartney classic a soulful treatment, with shimmering keyboard support. Rolfe’s “A Foote in the Door” features bassist Foote soloing with Jaco-like flamboyance. Throughout the album, Rolfe sparks the ensemble with a variety of keyboard effects and in-the-pocket jabs. Latham is an unshakable catalyst.
In the end, the album title is spot-on: This band is nothing if not fun—and genuinely cooperative. You get the picture that each player is listening to the others and responding for the benefit of the whole.