Jazzhaus Records [Release date 21.04.17]
There’s huge vacuum to be filled when you leap from a power trio to a nine piece big band. Apart from the statistical logistics, there’s the intricacy of the arrangements, the need for a big vocal performance to rise above the band and songs with enough substance to warrant the expanded ensemble.
Happily ‘BIG’ is a celebration of all those elements, as Danny Bryant revels in a big band setting.
The double album mostly showcases material from the ‘Hurricane’, ‘Temperature Rising’ and ‘Blood Money’ albums and marks a recording career high that amplifies his writing ability and guitar prowess.
The band sounds remarkably tight given that the double album was compiled from a handful of German and Dutch dates. The flow of the 13 tracks is probably in no small part due to Danny’s producer Richard Hammerton. And it’s Bryant’s musical relationship with Hammerton that lies at the core of the material here.
There’s an impressive sonic quality and coherent linear feel, counter-weighted by a loose limbed vibe that makes light of the expanded line-up. Then there’s the arrangements that ebb and flow seamlessly as the band plays to it’s full potential.
Listen for example, to the big ballad ‘Just Won’t Burn’ which moves towards a defining solo from Danny over some tension building horn stabs. Just when you think he’s resolved the piece, Steve Watts extends the groove with a dreamy piano line leading into Danny’s trademark volume swells, as the duo set about building the number again.
It’s the perfect example of the maturity of both the guitarist and his material. He leans into the groove to coalesce beautifully with his band and hit an emotive climax.
‘BIG’ is an aptly titled album that finds Danny stepping up a level to showcase a recent set of songs that have enabled him to make a significant career leap, reflected in his world-wide touring schedule and a high profile in Europe.
The single ‘Prisoner Of The Blues’ comes early and is a sparkling example of his steamroller blues. David Maddison’s trumpet solo speaks volumes about how Danny’s music has evolved, and he perfectly rounds things off with a muscular solo.
‘Temperature Rising’ is the perfect opener and the booming arrangement exemplifies his current musical direction. The big wall of sound, pumping horns, swelling chorus and a scorching guitar solo are lapped up by the crowd.
Steve Watts switches from piano to organ as he stretches out on ‘Holding All The Cards’, and the Walter Trout style guitar licks on the booming ‘Greenwood 31′ would surely make Bryant’s mentor smile.
If there’s downside it’s only that Danny sometimes has to work hard on his vocals – he almost over sings on the aptly titled ‘Groaning The Blues’ and momentarily struggles with his phrasing on ‘As The Years Go Passing By’ – but rises again on ‘Blood Money’ as his gritty approach evokes lyrical meaning.
The album also benefits from a variety of styles, most notably the searing Albert Collins style vibrato on the instrumental ‘On The Rocks’, the underlying funk on the horn heavy ‘Unchained’, on which he adds a barrelling solo, and those moments when the big band players illuminate the set.
Everything builds inexorably towards to the beautiful acoustic guitar and piano intro of ‘Painkiller’. It’s an emotive ballad that defines Danny fast maturing style. The glorious meeting of the ascending guitar, horns and keys brings whoops of appreciation from the crowd long before the climactic crescendo.
‘BIG’ is the real deal, as evidenced by the celebratory bonus track ‘Stop Breaking Down’. It may be a flash back to his early career style, but it taps into the moment and allows Danny to name check his excellent band.
‘BIG’ is an across the board triumph that confirms Danny Bryant as being in the vanguard of the European blues-rock scene.
This hard earned career high is an essential purchase for both existing fans and rock/blues fans alike. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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