Solid Gassuh by The Fat Babies
It seems like all the good news this past month has come from Chicago. First, the Chicago Cubs broke a 107-year losing streak to win the World Series. Even those of us who are not baseball fans (with the exception of Clevelanders) had to feel some satisfaction at the outcome. Then there was the third album, on Chicago’s Delmark label, by the remarkable Fat Babies. The new CD is Solid Gassuh, which is said to have been Louis Armstrong’s highest encomium for a musical performance. This recording would have rated that accolade from Pops.
The Fat Babies (under the direction of bassist Beau Sample) are a working band with two steady Chicago gigs: The Honky Tonk BBQ on Sundays and the historic Green Mill on Tuesdays. It would be one thing if the band were merely well-rehearsed. The septet is an all-star lineup of some of the finest hot jazz players in the country. Reedman John Otto and cornetist Andy Schumm (both formerly of the excellent West End Jazz Band) along with trombonist Dave Bock, round out the front line. Rhythm is provided by pianist/vocalist Paul Asaro, guitarist/banjoist Jake Sanders, drummer Alex Hall, and leader Sample on doghouse fiddle.
I’m inclined to call these incredible musicians “scholars,” since their approach to this music is conscientious in its historical accuracy. But that statement by no means conveys the heat and vitality they infuse into its performance. They don’t merely re-create the past by assiduously plowing through the record grooves laid down decades ago. With a deep respect for the original source material they swing creatively, and hard. As such, they make the old music new.
Beau Sample says, “When we started the band there was only one mission, to play ’20s and ’30s jazz and have a ball playing it. It was about loving the music and wanting to learn as much about it as we could. I felt honored that people actually came out to listen and dance to our music. Now here we are six years later, and I don’t think the original goal has changed much. We just want to keep on learning, growing, and challenging ourselves.”
Like its worthy predecessors on Delmark, Chicago Hot (Delmark 253) and 18th & Racine (Delmark 255), Solid Gassuh (Delmark 257) features a tasty variety of tunes and styles, from the raucous cowbell rhythms of Thomas Morris’ 1923 “Original Charleston Strut” to a new (and haunting) arrangement of Arthur Schutt’s “Delirium.” The 1927 Carl Fenton version (led by Red Nichols) was ultra-modern; The Fat Babies take it into realms hitherto unexplored. Is this how Donald Lindley would have played it?
Tribute is paid, and with overdue interest, to undeservedly forgotten or underappreciated musicians and numbers. “Slow River” was a Jean Goldkette sleeper that the band, with Andy Schumm in full Beiderbecke mode, restores to something greater than the original. Alternatively, Schumm intuits the mind of Punch Miller to drive a rollicking version of Albert Wynn’s “Parkway Stomp.”
The Fat Babies veer into the 1930s with “Egyptian Ella” and “Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?” both of which feature pleasing vocals by pianist Paul Asaro. Jake Sanders fills in with a delightful single-string guitar obbligato behind Asaro in a style used famously by Eddie Lang and Francis Henry but unfortunately not heard much since 1935. Likewise, Beau Sample slaps and plucks his string bass like Pops Foster and Steve Brown throughout the album. I would say that this manner of playing needs to be revived except that The Fat Babies are reviving it, and gloriously so. Drummer Alex Hall propels this magnificent band with requisite authority.
When considering the work of Otto, Schumm, and Bock I find myself running out of superlatives. I’ve ranted on in fanboy fashion about Andy Schumm on many prior occasions. What needs to be said here that he is not merely Beiderbecke 2.0. He has assimilated a panoply of styles and influences, that, as a multi-instrumentalist, render him perhaps the most formidable musician-scholar of the coming years. And John Otto and Dave Bock get the sound exactly right.
Solid Gassuh will bring you joy. The previous Delmark issues and the two CDs on Rivermont (as Paul Asaro and The Fat Babies) will delight you also. You should own all of them. Moreover, Solid Gassuh is beautifully recorded, with fine liner notes by Ricky Riccardi (Director of Research Collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum). This CD couldn’t have come at a better time.
For Online Only Access without delivery of the print paper sign up below.
If you'd like the PRINT EDITION, (12 monthly issues) use the following PayPal link. After your payment is complete you will be allowed to create an online account. You will receive the next mailed copy, usually shipping around the 22nd of the month. See a PDF Sample Here.