BT ALC Big Band hit my radar a few years about three years ago with the release of their single ‘The Iguana,’ now included on this new album Hearing the Truth. It served as a signal of great tunes on the horizon and now the album totally lives up to the hype. The New England based bandwith a 13-piece horn section delivers a fast-paced, power-packed, funk feast in a 9-track package. On top of that, there’s special guest sit-ins from Adam Deitch, Eric Benny Bloom and Nigel Hall of Lettuce, Eric Krasno, John Medeski, Karl Denson, G Love and The A-Beez each of whom amp up the tracks to maxium funkiness.
Here’s my track-by-track rundown of this great new album along with commentary from Brian and Alex.
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 was released last month on the Vintage League Music label.
Dimples is s a great track to start the album by featuring the band’s very own Brian Thomas (BT) on the trombone. It starts with some organ-bass-drums groove setting the tone for the full horn section punching in hard with the main theme. Brian plays the through line of song and has an extended solo midway through. The full band hums along with some super-cool horn power. There’s a nice guitar solo bridge by Steve Fell. The main theme returns with Brian at the lead up to the stop on a dime ending.
“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,”
— Alex Lee-Clark
Hearing the Truth begins with a horn line that transitions into a bass-organ-guitar riff that reminds me a bit of the old Quincy Jones tune “Killer Joe.” The horns come back swinging and drive to a power point midway. The ‘bones leading the main theme feel like a film noir scene. The bridge of multi-trombone trading back and forth in New Orleans style make this song a steamer. The icing on the cake is the blues soloing of Jeff Lockhart, stinging the strings.
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, MA.
Here in this Cave has a funky guitar before the full horn section comes in with the big sound and some interplay from the mid range sax section to the deeper trombone section. Alex has the main section, mid tempo pensive solo before the big band comes back with the forcefull A section closeout.
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.”
What Will You Do leads with a 6-note horn repeat before Alex hits with the lead trumpet line. This tune prominently features John Medeski who takes flight about 1/3 way through with a bright, trippy keys solo. Next up is a wailing tenor sax solo making this tune lean more jazzy than most on the album. I especially groove on the altissimmo sections of this groove. The second half has some playful juggling between the horns, Medeski and Alex. As with most of the tunes, the effect of the huge horn section is the ability to have multiple layers at once, put to good use here.
Egyptian Secrets is a tune that was originally the title track of his Adam Deitch Quartet album. Naturally it features him and gives the tune a big band twist in contrast to the sax + trumpet sound in the quartet and it sounds like a very natural adaptation. The horn theme gives a bit of a mystical vibe. Midway it shifts to a more fluid melody with the pulsating horn line foundation. There’s a echoing solo, perhaps guitar, but I’m not certain, followed by a spritely sax solo riding front and center. It’s an excellent treatment of an excellent song.
That Sound features G. Love & Special Sauce and candidly is one of the surprise songs for me. It starts with some James Bond sounding horns dropping back to a Quincy Jones-like swing and G. Love comes next. The riffs and raps are polished all the way through. After a short bit, there’s a false fade out and the opening horn line restarts in a swing-era style. G. Love comes back with some fine rhythm section grooving. The muted trumpets and gliding horns come back for the smooth middle section. A dreamy break features some guitar echoing and punchy horns, with G. coming back for the big band collosal closeout.
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).”
Pound for Pound is another killer surprise. It’s got some pulsing low end horns highlighting the ‘bones and a go-go beat. There’s a trumpet solo lead alternating with the trombone all with the horns section pounding along with the percussion masterfully. The big surprise here is The A-Beez, who I’d never heard of till now. The synth work here is top notch, reminding me of the kinda stuff that my boys, Snarky Puppy would put out, particularly my buddy Shaun Martin. This tune brings that funky dance feel all the way through with sparring between Brian and Alex. Here, everybody wins.
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.
The Iguana is one that I had heard well in advance of the album release as one of the lead singles. It’s a fast paced jaunt and tipped me off that this was gonna be hot. It features Alex with a great trumpet solo and his licks are so sharp. It also has a terrific solo from Eric Krasno a guitar icon on the scene. Third up is one of my all-time favorite sax masters, Karl ‘Diesel’ Denson and his pace and tone is razor sharp. The Iguana burns all the way through, a perfect big band tune to get the blood flowing.
Bring Forth Change has a heavy organ and horn line main theme. The lyrical chorus comes in encouraging change in times of uncertainty. This title track also has a fully animated video, a nice touch. It has a nice extended solo from Eric ‘Benny’ Bloom of Lettuce, so saucy and dripping with that jazzy funk. The bridge with the percussion bringing in the low / high alternating horns sets up Brian again with another slippery trombone solo and I’m totally down with it.
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.
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.”
Musician & Recording Credits
Saxes and Woodwinds: Tucker Antell, Pete Levesque, Mike Tucker, Dino Govoni, Jared Sims,
Trumpets: Bijon Watson, Alex Lee-Clark, Doug Olson, Mark Berney, Yaure Muniz, Eric Bloom
Trombones: Benjamin Griffin, Brian Thomas, Clayton Dewalt, Angel Subero, Rob Krahn
Guitars: Steve Fell, Jeffrey Lockhart, Aaron Bellamy
Keys: Darby Wolf, Amy Bellamy, John Medeski, Sam Gilman
Electric Bass: Jesse Williams, Aaron Bellamy
Bass Keys: Darby Wolf
Percussion: Yahuba Garcia-Torres, Damon Grant
Drums: Dean Johnston, Alan Evans, Adam Deitch
Vocals: G Love, Nigel Hall
Principle rhythm section recording, mixing, and mastering by Alan Evans
Iron Wax Studios, Erving MA
Horn recording by Will Holland
Chillhouse Studios, Charlestown, MA