The Chicago classic jazz band The Fat Babies have a new release from their extensive repertoire that includes more idiomatic renditions of songs from the twenties and thirties. The Fats Babies is comprised of leader Beau Sample on bass; Andy Schumm on cornet; Dave Bock on trombone; Paul Asaro on piano and vocals; Jake Sanders on tenor banjo and guitar; Alex Hall on drums; and John Otto on clarinet and saxophones, the same personnel that were on their first album, "Chicago Hot," accounting for the crisp ensemble sound and assured solos. Unlike that earlier album, the songs here are lesser known songs of the era than those on the earlier album. Like that recording, they inject a definite spirit in their recreations.
Ricky Ricccardi, Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, notes that band soften playing such music get hot as playing "nostalgia" or "museum pieces," but suggests that the appeal of The Fat Babies is that they "treat this music as a living, breathing thing." This is something that is difficult to accomplish while trying to say stylistically true to the recordings that are the source for these performances. A lively rendition of the Luis Russell-Paul Barbarin "Doctor Blues" opening this album is a joyful reaffirmation of the quality of their performancers of these vintage numbers. Schumm, who arranged this music, plays his cornet in the spirit of Bix Beiderbecke like on "Slow River," a lesser known Clarence Williams composition.
In its playing, The Fat Babies generally avoids being 'nostalgic,' and also being campy, but there are exceptions in the vocals. Pianist Asaro's crooning on "Did You Ever See A Dream Walking?" is appealing with Sanders' guitar adding a nice touch here, although his Ted Lewis styling on "Egyptian Ella," comes off as a bit campy. The spirited rendition of Thomas Morris' "Original Charleston Strut" (with Hall's drumming standing out with his rhythmic accents), and the lively rendition of "Alabamy Bound" (one of the most familiar numbers here), are other standout selections. Also noteworthy is the rendition of Arthur Schutt's "Delirium," which Ricccardi suggests they provide "an almost Bix-meets-Raymond Scott treatment," taking what was originally a unique chart and performing "something surprising, unpredictable and even a little haunting," although I might suggest evocative as the mood engendered.
A breakneck tempo rendition of "Maple Leaf Rag," closes "Solid Gassuh," which Riccardi observed would be quite a very high compliment from Louis Armstrong and appropriate to use describing the music herein. If this listener has some reservations about several vocals, there are none about the consistent solid performances by The Fat Babies.
I received my review copy from Delmark Records. Here The Fat Babies perform Jelly Roll Morton.