Last night at the Hungry Brain I caught the Chicago debut of a nine-piece band from Richmond, Virginia, called Fight the Big Bull (clearly someone in the band is fluent in Spanish–it’s the default language on their Web site). They’d been invited to town by Ken Vandermark, who met bandleader and guitarist Matt White in Richmond a few years ago. Since then White has looked to Vandermark as something of a mentor, picking his brain (mostly in e-mail) about the improvised-music biz. (I can only assume he was being metaphorical when he compared Vandermark to “an old rich uncle.”)

Fight the Big Bull’s debut album is due later in the year from the excellent Portuguese label Clean Feed, and on Wednesday night the band plays at the Hideout with Vandermark–together they’ll debut some new music they’re cooking up for the occasion.

At the Brain the band’s repertoire–composed and arranged by White–was very impressive, but the songs repeatedly stalled during the solos. The combo is well rehearsed and the players all have fine technique and good sounds, but they looked like a university big band gone avant-garde, sitting behind music stands and dutifully rising when it was time to solo. And when it comes to improvising they’ve got a ways to go yet–every solo I heard last night just staggered in place with little sense of structure or development.

That said, though, I’m impressed that nine players have committed to such a project–and it is a commitment, since I’m sure their pay from these gigs won’t even cover the gas they burned on the trip. They’re mostly still very young, and I hope they do stick with it–when they learn to solo they’re going to be dangerous.

Today’s playlist:

Webbie, Savage Life 2 (Trill Entertainment/Asylum)
Juan Carlos Romero, Azulejo (World Village)
Antietam, Opus Mixtum (Carrot Top)
Jill Scott, The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3 (Hidden Beach)
Lee Morgan, Indeed! (Blue Note)