Generation Jazz: Fat-Suit and Friends at The Gardyne Theatre 20.3.15

A week is a long time to be lost for words, but it’s taken seven days to recover my wits after yet another outstanding performance from the jazzilicious Fat Suit. The fourteen-piece funk driven, jazz-informed and roots-minded ensemble have signally nailed down contemporary thinking on musical eclecticism, but they’ve also advanced in leaps and bounds as serious live act.

The present generation of music-makers are not only open-minded they are also liberated. Fat-Suit play with a sense of freedom that is a marker for these times, yet they clearly respect the jazz and roots music origins of sophisticated popular music.

They headlined a very special show at The Gardyne presented by Jazz Scotland that was designed to showcase new jazz talent from the greatest, but not-quite-independent country in the world. If it revealed anything, then it showed that there is no shortage of free thinkers exploring paths to a new Scottish Enlightenment. IMG_6876

It fell to seventeen-year-old Fergus McCreadie to open the evening with three solo piano pieces that included an extended wander down Green Dolphin Street, the self-penned Falling Flat and an elegant passing shot of Ladies in Mercedes. If McCreadie had chosen photography instead of music his images would strong, bold and full of character. He plays loft-life jazz informed by a taste for angular syncopation and classical punctuation, but with an alarming ambidextrous intensity that belies his youthfulness.

“Terrifying…..but in a good way”, was how the more established jazz pianist Alan Benzie described McCcreadie as he took over the reins for the second set of the first half. He and saxophonist Joe Wright are an experienced duo, and not at all scary. Their charming description of a Sophisticated Lady, and the curiosity of their Anime soundtrack/Turtle Soup jam was reassuringly indicative of the happily effusive, if not slightly eccentric shapes to come on Frog Town on The Hill. The world has been waiting for a jazz adaptation of an Ivor Cutler song almost as long as a sketch of an amphibian jazz party. Wright was a discreet foil throughout for Benzie’s extraordinary light touch, and struck all the right notes in-between Frogtown’s concert piano flourishes.

Fat-Suit were already a force to be reckoned with even before they took the stage for a barnstorming second-half performance. Their early gigs displayed confidence and chutzpah to match the self-evident musicianship. Now they are brighter, bolder, brassier and the music positively gleams with polish and panache. It matters a whole lot less whether this is jazz, funk, roots, rock or even electro-dubstep purée, than the effect it has. The ability to cross-over is highly desired by players and listeners alike, but Fat-Suit also provoke the welcome inquisition, “What’s That??”

The harder you try describe what they do, the further you’re likely to get away from it. We could talk about Snarky Puppy all day, or indulge the musical in-jokes of the myriad players who mash up styles with irritatingly casual virtuosity. But, it’s tunes like April Lake and No Regrets featuring Laura Wilkie and Mhairi Marwick leading out on elbow-powered violins that have helped to set them apart. In a short space of time they’ve established a musical identity that has a strong and singular personality, for all the numbers that are involved in shaping it.

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The funk motor under the hood of the Fat-Suit juggernaut is powerful and crammed with features, but there’s room to spare for the brass to punch holes clean through the radiator. As individuals they are more inclined towards short, sharp instrumental breaks than long spiralling solos. One suspects that this more because they want to get onto the next idea quickly, rather than fretting over the patience of a mixed crowd. Nevertheless, I’d like to make special mention of Liam Shortall on trombone who’s only been with the band a matter of months. He still has something of “the new boy” about him, but he stepped up to the plate with panache when asked to solo, and his bright ideas were warmly received in the auditorium.

The brass section also routinely conjures up melodies and phrases that wouldn’t be out of place as music married to a moving image, or at least the opening credits. In places it’s more Bill Conti than be-bop, and at one point, Lalo Schifrin suddenly made his presence subliminally felt inside my brain. This is not to suggest that the music is derivative. Frankly, I mourn for a time when only a full-on jazz tune would do for a peak-time television show like Ironside with a theme by Quincy Jones, or the genius of Schifrin’s Mission Impossible.

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Fat-Suit is, above all, a band that loves to have a good time and loves for you to have a good time too. Their set is dominated by numbers like Sparks, Mistaken for a Hat and Sound Logic that come alive on stage and bid you to dance, if not wriggle vigorously in your upholstered seat. All these musical suggestion contribute, I think, to a sense of reassurance in the audience that wherever Fat-Suit lead it’s safe to follow. Some people leave the room when you say the words “funk”, or “jazz” or (gasp) “folk”. Now all you need to say is “Fat-Suit” and they’ll probably bop ‘til they drop. By the time the fusion flashmob close out with the Cachaça-soaked Diversao, you are minded to join saxophonist Scott Murphy to defiantly demonstrate that your moves are almost as good as his.

Jazz Scotland tied the bow neatly with this programme because all of the performers involved represent next generation jazz as music that has to make sense of itself in the world to come. It’s also clear that the DNA of previous generations is preserved in their makeup in a way that allows perpetuation of treasured forms hand-in-glove with contemporary creative imperatives.

Michael S. Clark

First Published on INSTRUMENTALhttp://instrumentali.com/2015/03/28/generation-jazz-fat-suit-and-friends-at-the-gardyne-theatre-20-3-15

All Photographs by Gavin McLaughlin Photography (link)

Link to Fat-Suit website below

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