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CD Review: The Fat Babies “Uptown”

By Hrayr Attarian

The Fat Babies Uptown

Andy Schumm – Cornet, alto saxophone, clarinet

Dave Bock – Trombone

Jonathan Doyle – Clarinet, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone

John Otto – Clarinet, alto saxophone

Paul Asaro – Piano, vocal

Johnny Donatowicz – Tenor banjo, tenor guitar

Beau Sample – String bass

Alex Hall – Drums, percussion

The Chicago-based early jazz ensemble, The Fat Babies, preserves the authenticity of the music from a bygone era yet infuses it with a modern vibrancy and relevance. On their fourth release for Delmark Records, Uptown, reedman Jonathan Doyle joins the group making it an octet and contributes a new composition. The thirteen delightful tracks, in fact, are a mix of standards, some saved from obscurity, and band originals that seamlessly fit together for a cohesive album.

One of those lesser-known gems is the captivating “Ruff Scufflin’.” Made famous by vocalist/saxophonist George Lee, it is intricately constructed yet sounds deceptively simple. The rhythm section’s playful, syncopated cadence forms the tune’s lively backdrop. The horns emerge individually out of the dramatic group performance and fade back into it with agility and grace.

Equally cinematic is cornetist and woodwind player Andy Schumm’s title track. Drummer Alex Hall sets an expectant mood with his dark and deep thuds and thrums. The lilting melody expands over Hall’s and bassist Beau Sample’s percussive vamps like an enticing aroma. Trombonist Dave Bock takes a buttery and reverberating solo like the swagger of a suave gentleman out on the town at night. Doyle and saxophonist/clarinetist John Otto take brief turns in the spotlight with gleeful phrases, leading up to pianist Paul Asaro’s stride riffs.

Asaro also lends his voice to a few songs like Razaf’s and Williams’ exuberant “Harlem Rhythm Dance.” His passionate and articulate singing matches Doyle’s big-toned tenor sax. Schumm’s muted cornet engages banjoist and guitarist Johnny Donatowicz in a colorful duet—an apt conclusion to an exciting recording.

Filled with nostalgia and animated with vitality, Uptown is The Fat Babies’ most accomplished recording to date. Deftly and with panache, the band revitalizes the ingenious work of such greats as King Oliver and Andy Kirk. And, perhaps most importantly, it does it with ebullience and infectious fun.

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