By Bobby Reed | Published November 2018
Drummer Bernie Dresel’s new album exudes a super-sized aesthetic: Bern Bern Bern offers more, more, more. For this 72-minute program, a 17-person iteration of the Bernin’ Big Band recorded 14 tunes—including two tracks that feature a nine-piece guest ensemble (The Los Angeles Clarinet Choir), plus a 15-minute take on Bill Cunliffe’s “Suite B.” Dresel is a sonic craftsman with a large assortment of tools. In the liner notes amid commentary on the band’s rendition of “Anything Goes,” Dresel writes: “On this cut you will hear washboard, backwards low guitars that blossom from trombones, sticks on upright bass, backwards slap bass, balalaika, ukulele, marimba, xylophone, 55-gallon metal drum, spiral cymbal, drum corps snare … and tap dancing!” Despite the diverse instrumentation and a large number of personnel, Dresel and his co-producer, Gary Reber, prevent any excesses from derailing their project. Reber has worked with Buddy Rich, and Dresel formerly was in Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, so these two collaborators have ample experience in helping a large ensemble soar.
This album gracefully nods to tradition—via standards like “Body And Soul,” “A Night In Tunisia” and two Cole Porter tunes—while also refreshing the big-band concept, thanks to gifted musicians who look forward, not backward. Two BBB members composed songs in the program: Trombonist James McMillen contributes three compositions (“BBB Opener,” “Bern Bern Bern” and “The Summit”), and baritone saxophonist Brian Williams offers two (“Early Spring” and “ALL The Things!”). Other composers represented include former Tower of Power trumpeter Greg Adams (“Zuit Soot”) and trombonist (and Prince band alumnus) Michael B. Nelson (“New Dell Inn”).
A sparkling version of funk band War’s 1972 hit “The World Is A Ghetto” incorporates drumming influenced by Gene Krupa, an excellent soprano saxophone solo by Brian Scanlon and some trippy sci-fi sound effects—while still remaining sonically cohesive. The Los Angles-based studio musicians in the band prove themselves to be remarkably adaptable, whether playing traditional big band fare, a guitar-laced rock riff or music that feels like a film score. The overall result is a big-band gem for the current millennium.
Bern Bern Bern is available in four formats: vinyl, CD, digital download and Pure Audio Blu-ray Disc. Fans interested in the technical aspects of the recording can check out the detailed liner-notes essays about the microphones, production processes and tools used to make the album, including Auro-3D Native 9.1 Immersive Sound.