by Ian Mann
October 10, 2019
Another impressive offering from Fat-Suit. The album combines intelligent writing and arranging with some excellent ensemble playing and some inspired individual soloing.
“Waifs & Strays”
(Equinox Records EQX006CD)
“Waifs & Strays” is the fourth album release from the young Scottish big band Fat-Suit and represents the follow up to 2016’s highly acclaimed “Atlas”.
Named because they are “a big outfit” Fat-Suit first came together at Strathclyde University” and was originally conceived as a Snarky Puppy tribute band. Taking their initial inspiration from the phenomenally successful Anglo-American act Fat-Suit developed quickly and now compose all of their material.
Fat-Suit has always maintained a fluid line up, its ranks including musicians drawn from the worlds of jazz, folk, rock and electronica. “Atlas” drew on a pool of twenty seven musicians while “Waifs & Strays” features even more, once its guest soloists become part of the equation.
For live work the band typically comprises of eight members for a club gig, fourteen for a concert hall or theatre engagement and up to thirty in the recording studio. “Waifs & Strays” was recorded, and also filmed, over a four day period at the Drygate Brewery in Glasgow. Given the nature of the location I’m surprised they got any work done at all! I know I’d have been fatally distracted!
For this latest album the massed ranks of Fat Suit lined up as follows;
Mark Scobbie – drums
Stephen Henderson, Grant Cassidy, Martyn Hodge – percussion
Gus Sirrat – bass guitar
Dorian Cloudsley, Fraser Jackson – guitars
Craig McMahon, Alan Benzie, Moss Taylor, Ciaran McEneny – keyboards
Murray McFarlane, Alex Sharples – trumpets & flugels
Mateusz Sobieski – tenor sax
Liam Shortall – trombone & tuba
Mhairi Marwick, Laura Wilkie, Katie Rush, Rhona Macfarlane, Lissa Robertson, Colin McKee – violins
Sarah Leonard, Nicola Boag – violas
Rachel Wilson, David Munn – cellos
Johnny Woodham – trumpet
Corrina Hewat – harp
Davie Dunsmuir – guitar
In 2015 I was fortunate enough to witness a performance by the fourteen piece version of Fat Suit in the Clore Ballroom at the Southbank as part of that year’s EFG Jazz Festival. My impressions of that event are reproduced below;
“Fat-Suit draw on many genres including jazz, funk, rock and folk and this was a performance to enjoy rather than analyse. With some dynamic grooves, crunching, razor sharp ensemble playing and some sparky solos from all sections of the band this was a technically proficient, but above all very exciting, performance. Fat-Suit are a great live band who are likely to appeal to a very broad constituency, not just hard core jazz fans. They work at their presentation but there’s no sense of them ‘dumbing down’ their music for their audience. Like their initial inspiration Fat-Suit are loud, sassy and brassy and the Clore audience absolutely loved them”.
My review of the “Atlas” album (which also incorporates the above paragraph) can be read here;
“Waifs & Strays” commences with the composition “Rumblings”, written by the band’s co-founder Dorian Cloudsley. Deep brass sonorities combine with electric keyboards and funky grooves to create an impressive barrage of sound. The punchy nature of the performance is a reminder of that Snarky Puppy influence, but there are more reflective episodes too, one eventually spawning a soaring guitar solo from featured musician Fraser Jackson that sees him gradually ratcheting up the tension before heading for the stratosphere. The band’s deployment of a wide range of keyboard colours and textures is also impressive, with both organ and synthesiser sounds being deployed in a rich and imaginative arrangement.
Bassist Gus Stirrat’s “Keo” offers another example of Fat-Suit’s impressive power, channelling 70s style funk and fusion for the 21st century, again deploying a rich mix of keyboard sounds. The featured musician here is Mateusz Sobieski, who weighs in with a muscular tenor sax solo above a powerful rhythmic groove spearheaded by Mark Scobbie’s dynamic drumming. Scobbie then enjoys an extended drum feature before a rousing collective finale featuring some truly gargantuan riffing.
Craig McMahon’s “The Crane And The Crow” begins in more reflective fashion, but gradually builds to embrace an impressive riff based dynamism featuring brass and reeds alongside the electric keyboards and guitars. The featured soloist is guest Johnny Woodham on trumpet, a musician known to me from his work with the artist Alfa Mist. Woodham delivers a thoughtful and fluent solo above a steadily escalating groove, his is an impressive and convincing contribution.
There’s a welcome change of mood, style and pace with the folk flavoured “Countryside Quiet”, written by the American harpist Rachel Clemente and arranged for Fat-Suit by bassist Stirrat. The strings feature more prominently here and the featured soloist is guest musician Corrina Hewat, whose delightfully delicate harp playing inevitably conjures up ethereal images of swirling Celtic mists. However it’s not all fey mysticism, the collective weight of Fat-Suit helps to ensure that there’s still plenty of heft and substance in Stirrat’s arrangement.
The composer of the piece, Clemente, was born in Ohio and is now based in New England. Thanks to her love of traditional Scottish music she came to study it at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, graduating in 2018. One suspects that although now resident in another country she is still a part of the Fat-Suit family.
Craig McMahon’s hard driving “Brum Doing A Wheelie” ups the pace once more and demonstrates the fun side of the band. Rock rhythms predominate with drummer Scobbie giving a particularly dynamic performance. The featured musician is Alan Benzie, one of the band’s four keyboard players, who delivers a searing synthesiser solo.
Cloudsley’s composition “Caretaker” builds gradually from simple and gentle beginnings to embrace rich horn and string textures before finally adapting a ferocious funk groove powered by Stirrat’s bass. Chunky guitars, funky keys and punchy horns add to the mix with Liam Shortall breaking ranks to deliver a rousing and rasping trombone solo. There’s also something of a feature for the band’s twin percussionists in addition to more scorching keyboard playing.
The trombonist features again on his own African flavoured “Uh Oh” with its joyous melodies and buoyant grooves. An ebullient ensemble performance is capped by another agile ‘bone solo from the composer, following which a shift in style and pace prompts an equally impressive solo from tenor man Sobieski.
Stirrat’s “Mombasa” is initially more reflective and is introduced by the cadences of the composer’s bass, subsequently joined by some subtle blues flavoured guitar, presumably played by the band’s final guest, guitarist Davie Dunsmuir. Although I know Dunsmuir’s playing from his work with Scottish drummer and composer Alyn Cosker he’s also been a regular member of drum superstar Billy Cobham’s band, establishing himself as one of Scotland’s leading jazz exports. After the thoughtful introduction Stirrat’s tune delights in some thrillingly complex seventies style fusion style riffery, reminiscent of Cobham’s classic “Spectrum” band. This really gives the impressive Dunsmuir the chance to demonstrate his chops with some dazzling, turbo-charged soloing.
The album concludes with the shimmering atmospherics of Cloudsley’s evocative and ethereal “Lunar Milk”, which offers some much needed room for the strings and includes a gently trilling electric piano solo from Benzie.
“Waifs & Strays” represents another impressive offering from Fat-Suit. The album combines intelligent writing and arranging with some excellent ensemble playing and some inspired individual soloing. Although frequently complex there’s always an underlying sense of groove allied to an overriding sense of fun. This is an ensemble that is serious about its music, but which doesn’t take itself too seriously, as is always the best way.
From previous experience I can confirm that Fat-Suit are a dynamic and hugely enjoyable live act. The eight piece version of the band is currently touring the UK in support of this current album.
Details of dates at http://www.fat-suit.co.uk