Among the throngs of Richmond jazz acts, Fight the Big Bull stands out as the supergroup, perhaps the city's best collection of young musicians and composers. But beyond their technical skill, let's just say it: These guys are really fun to see live.
Fight the Big Bull is not your average Richmond band. For one, it's an eight-piece act that manages to tour regionally, making its bread inside the markedly small indie-jazz community. Second, the band was solidified by Richmond's open arms, most specifically the invitation from Cous Cous to play a bimonthly Wednesday-night gig.
"We weren't really a band before Cous Cous," says Matt White, Big Bull bandleader and composer of its tunes. "It gave us an opportunity to get to know one another, to become tight emotionally and musically."
Fight the Big Bull is Richmond-famous not only for its contemplative breed of progressive big-band fusion and sense of humor guided by talent and improvisation, but also for its ability to create an event. The Big Bull has stirred up the scene twice in its two years, once spending an evening covering Weezer's "Blue Album" for its 2006 album release party (which featured no Weezer material), and another time celebrating Michael Jackson's "Thriller" as a special Halloween goody last year for those aging trick-or-treaters who never quite grew out of the love for dancing zombies. Both performances had lines down the block.
The Big Bull exists apart from other Richmond acts largely because of the volume of precision musicianship. The band relies on and is defined by its expert cast members.
They're local jazz all-stars: Bob Miller, Reggie Pace, Bryan Hooten, Jason Scott, John Lilley, Matt White, Cameron Ralston and Pinson Chanselle -- all of whom you may know from other acts such as Ilad, The Great White Jenkins, glows-in-the-dark, No BS Brass, The Big Payback and others.
While White insists that the Big Bull "isn't a rotating act," the band is no stranger to guest musicians Jason Arce, J.C. Kuhl, Brian Jones and others a reality keeping the core members of the band on their toes.
The talent earned the band a trip to Chicago earlier this month to walk its latest musical tightrope collaborating in a live environment with sax-titan Ken Vandermark. For those unfamiliar with the contemporary jazz scene, an invite to collaborate with Vandermark is like being asked to pitch a baseball at a Major League game. This distinction is evidence of the band's deep-seated skill and world-class musicianship.
The Big Bull's expertise has garnered international attention and landed the boys a record deal with Clean Feed Records, a well-respected avant-jazz label based out of Portugal.
To quote White: "If it sucks, it sucks; if it's awesome, it's awesome." White's fortune-cookie message allows this carnival of break beats and dizzying horns to experiment, to create events, to revise sounds that bounce from Cous Cous to Chicago to Portugal and back.