The Mica Bethea Big Band – Stage ‘N Studio
(Self-released. CD review by Nick Davies)
The fact that Mica Bethea produces and writes music is remarkable given that he is a quadriplegic. Undaunted by this disability, he has successfully completed both Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees and developed a strong musical career.
Mica composes and arranges charts for big bands, work which tends to be complex and hard to categorise, but which has received plaudits from the musicians such as Geoffrey Keezer and Joel Frahm (link) .
Stage ‘N Studio is his second release as band leader where he records the music twice: once in the studio and then as a live performance at the University of Florida in Jacksonville. This is an experimental and brave project. The listener provided the opportunity to hear each piece twice and judge whether the live or studio sound is best. The album runs to 16 tracks written by artists the likes of Herbie Hancock and George Gershwin, as well as four arrangements composed by Mica himself which more than hold their own. Adapting songs by artists such as Gershwin to big band is no mean feat however, Mica does well, staying true to the original whilst adding another exciting element.
Hang Up Your Hang Ups by Hancock is the first track on both discs, starting with a guitar introduction and followed by the rest of the band. The music is performed to a high standard and there is great interplay between the musicians throughout, with the guitar rhythm bordering on funk at times.
As one would expect from the studio version, it is very clean and polished, compared to the live version which has a certain rawness to it, without losing the funky beat: a great interpretation which comes across stronger than its studio counterpart. Equally, Gershwin’s Our Love Is Here To Stay receives similar treatment with a superb vocal by Linda Cole. Once again, the live version stands out. This appears to be the running theme throughout the album.
These tunes were made to be played live and that, in my opinion, is the best setting for them. Overall, it is a good release however, the combination of a studio and live album is a risky choice; it might have been better received as two independent releases. This said, Mica Bethea is a rising star in the world of big band compositions so watch this space.