The Fat Cat Jazz Band takes its name from a Manhattan club where this eleven- piece aggregate has its regular Sunday gig. Face is the group’s third release in just over a year, all recorded during just two days of July 2008. The Fat Cats are led by guitarist Jade Synstelien, who also does all the writing as well as growling the occasional vocal, with New York’s bottomless talent pool assuring the leader of a top-notch supporting cast.
Synstelien’s writing represents quite a change from post-Gil Evans norms; instead of weaving impressionistic tone poems, Synstelien writes tunes. Tunes that you can whistle, that make you tap your foot. These develop along the general lines of swing-era practice, using riffs, call- and-response patterns, and delightfully convoluted ensemble passages, but the harmonies and soloing are more modern. The results are accessible even for people who don’t listen to much jazz, and sure to please those who do.
Solo space is somewhat limited, but everyone who steps up to the plate gets at least a base hit. Besides the leader’s quirky guitar breaks, there are impressive cameos from tenor saxophonists Geoff Vidal and Stacy Dillard, trumpeter Brandon Lee, and trombonist Jonathan Voltzac, among others. Let’s hope Synstelien keeps up his current high rate of production.