Fat-Suit – Atlas
(Equinox Records EQX004CD. CD Review by Dan Bergsagel)
A solitary violin leads in distant, patient horns, a slow crescendo gathering the rest of the band to climax before breaking in to four-to-the-floor electronic fuzz, and back out again. For a philharmonic philistine like me its final frontier space odyssey stuff, and for Fat-Suit it is a distinctive sound marking new musical territory, and increasing the size of their string section 700% for their third album Atlas.
At the London Jazz Festival in 2015, Fat-Suit held forth in the Southbank Centre’s Clore Ballroom in the slot before Average White Band in the Royal Festival Hall. They were promising, exciting, and a leaner version of the 27 musicians featuring on Atlas, but the stage architecture didn’t help them; their sound swallowed up in to the cavernous lobby. Atlas couldn’t be any more different, a diverse collection of instruments crammed in to the Cottiers Theatre in Glasgow, with the rich acoustics at the fore.
With the new record come new sonic experiments: the other worldly orchestral opener Colours Burst Behind Eyes, the journeyman sound of far-off places of Mr Hinomaru, and the more local-sounding anthemic folk of Cowfords. However the album’s core appeal comes from developing the base Fat-Suit model – fast-paced progressive mix of jazz fusion full of driving drums, infectious horn lines and meandering synth. Nuscle In My Link is full of energy, different chapters, and perhaps brings the inevitable comparisons with US multi-instrumental mega-collective Snarky Puppy in to the sharpest contrast. The jumping funky Sparks and jaunty time signatures and brooding rhythm section of For The Wicked demonstrate the bands collective understanding, but cry out for live performance.
Writing duties are shared, and each composer is leaving their mark. The rhythm interplay in drummer Mark Scobie’s For The Wicked shines through, and the meandering horn lines of saxophonist Scott Murphy’s Weather Report-esque Messiah Complex stand as a signature, but perhaps it’s the keys player Craig McMahon contributions which leave the clearest marks, bringing electronica and experimentation to the heart of the penultimate track Septimus, swaggering through genres and moods before a strident finale.
Atlas is an ambitious album, and while the extended line up brings plenty of compositional opportunities, it feels Fat-Suit are at their strongest on the tracks where they’ve shed the extra weight. On this evidence they’re a band evolving fast, and conducting fascinating experiments as they go. I’d try and catch them live at one of their rare dates soon, before they evolve again for their next project.
Atlas is released on 3rd October