If you’ve got your ears peeled, eager to hear what the future of jazz sounds like, a phenomenal place to start focusing is Big Beat, a 19-piece, millennial led ensemble bent on dynamically fusing classic, bold, brassy, improvisational rich big band power with relentless grooving steeped in more contemporary R&B/soul, gospel and funk.
Formed in 2015 by four young cats who all received their Master’s in Jazz Arranging from William Paterson University, the group’s first full length album has a title (Sounds Good, Feels Good) that, like the music itself, puts us in a positive, optimistic mindset, defiant of the complicated world we live in. Though leaders Charlie Dougherty (bassist), Phil Engsberg (sax), Caleb Rumley (conductor, trombone) and Ryan Tomski (piano) are all wildly adventurous soloists (and the first three, arrangers), the group’s true revelation is lead vocalist Allison McKenzie, who is either the jazziest soul singer you’ve ever heard, or the most soulful jazz singer.
It’s testament to her equally emotional songwriting skills that her original compositions - the rambunctious, Tower of Power flavored “I Wanna Talk With You,” the funk-fired romance “I’ll Be Burning for You” and the hopeful anthem “Miss America” – make great “setfellows” alongside fascinating reworkings of classics by Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott and The Jackson 5 (a wild, tempo shifting “I Want You Back”). It sounds good and feels good because, yes, it’s SO DAMN GOOD!