Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Fat Babies Are Chicago Hot

Its surprising to hear a jazz band whose members are in their twenties and thirties and devote their talents to the hot jazz that would be heard in Chicago in the twenties and thirties. That is The Fat Babies, whose debut Delmark CD, Chicago Hot, has spirited interpretations of songs associated with Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and King Oliver. The band is comprised of leader Beau Sample on bass; Andy Schumm on cornet; Dave Bock on trombone; Jake Sanders on banjo; Alex Hall on drums; Paul Asaro on piano and John Otto on clarinet and saxophones. Mike Walbridge guests on tuba for the last of the 16 tracks.

There are plenty of youthful bands that approach materials from this era in a campy fashion. One thing to appreciate about The Fat Babies is that they play this music straight. That doesn’t mean that their performances are sterile recreations. There is pretty of life here from the opening Snake Rag, from King Oliver; San, a number associated with Bix Beiderbecke; the pop standard I Surrender Dear, that was so memorably performed by Louis Armstrong; Weary Blues that has become a staple of the New Orleans traditional scene; and Tight Light This, that was a celebrated recording by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five.

Schumm’s cornet playing, based in Bix Beiderbecke’s lyrical style, stands out. He is, however, quite capable of generating fireworks as on Tight Light That, where Armstrong’s influence is a bit more prominent while the rest of the band provide support. Snake Rag and Jelly Roll Morton’s Froggie Moore, (another song associated with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band), impress with the band's marvelous ensemble work and the contrapuntal playing between the horns. Pianist Asaro is featured on the Gershwin classic, Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away), as he opens wistfully before picking up the tempo and turning this into a piano stomp. He incorporates ragtime and stride while supported by the understated rhythm section and trading fours with Hall. Asaro also has a nice chorus on Tight Like That as does clarinetist Otto.

Kim Cusack, a veteran of the traditional Chicago jazz scene, observes that not only has this band appealed to listeners old enough to be grandparents of the band members but also have a substantial youthful following. Listening to the performances on Chicago Hot, one can understand the appeal of The Fat Babies crisp and spirited playing that has goes beyond the existing audience for traditional jazz.

I was provided a review copy from Delmark. Here is a video of The Fat Babies performing Snake Rag with a few enthusiastic dancers.

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