BLASTING THROUGH The Fogcutters sax section (from left): Kyle Hardy, Mat Leighton, Duncan Hardy, Tyler Card, Brian Graham.
Walking into the old Hanover Street warehouse space in Portland to a full-blown rehearsal of the Fogcutters Big Band is a little like moving from a sauna to the frozen tundra. Getting blasted in the face by all 17 pieces of them (plus whoever's singing) is bracing (the full band will swell to as many as 21 pieces). Even with zero amplification, it's very, very loud. Just about all the pieces are horns, and that's a lot of brass.
They're hard at work finishing up the arrangements of 16 local songs, which they'll unveil December 2 at the State Theatre as part of their ambitious Big Band Syndrome show, featuring Dave Gutter, Darien Brahms, Jacob Augustine, Dominic Lavoie, Sly-Chi, Spose, Zach Jones, and Lyle Divinsky.
At the moment, Divinsky stands in front of them, acoustic guitar strapped around him, a black cap on his head, not in the least fazed by the impact of the full complement of horns as they start to work up "I Care," off his 2009 record Traveling Man.
"So, it's basically arranged just like the recording," says trombonist John Maclaine from the middle row. Along with saxophonist Brian Graham, he's done the translation of these rock and soul and hip-hop and alt-country songs into big-band numbers.
"Okay, well, how do I come into it with the guitar?" Divinsky asks. "I haven't actually listened to the recording lately."
They pretty quickly figure it out — and what was a soulful crooner with a bit of jazz to it opens up with huge dynamics, the punctuations of the horns like jabs to the face early in the verse, then more drawn out in its second half. The chorus is simply enormous.
Halfway through, Spose walks in, pulls out a Sea Dog blueberry and kicks back. A couple minutes later the Mallett Brothers, plus dad David, peek in the door as well, before heading back out for a cigarette. Maclaine rearranged Spose's "Drugs, Girls, Money, Liquor" for its Universal Republic recut; Spose leans over and says it'll be cool to do it live for once.
You can get lost just watching the eyes of the various players, alternately locked on Lyle or shut or fixed on the sheet music in front of them. Everyone has their own way of listening or following along, sometimes asking questions of the player in the next chair over in short stretches of downtime during the song.
"Was there a solo there I cut short?" Divinsky asks after the first full take. "I think there should be one there if it's just like the record."
There's general rumbling — "Maybe we need to throw repeat marks in there somewhere" — before a consensus emerges that ripples down the line of sax players audibly.
"Wait, what's going on?" asks Kyle Hardy.
"We're just repeating I and J," says Mat Leighton, next to him.
"You mean J and K?" asks Duncan Hardy.
"I is not repeated," says someone in the trombone section.
"I'm sorry, it's just J." That's probably Graham. It's hard to keep track.
"Heading into those sections, just make sure you hit it tight," says Divinsky, popping his fist into the palm of his hand for emphasis. Each guest is going to be, de facto, the band leader for two songs, which is an interesting dynamic, telling 15 relative strangers what to do with their band.
See exclusive video from the rehearsal here.