Alex Machacek: FAT (2012)
Alex Machacek has been turning heads with his incendiary guitar playing and striking writing since he burst on the scene with Featuring Ourselves (Next Generation Enterprises, 1999). Whilst drummer Herbert Pirker and bassist Raphael Preuschi have a less visible profile, their equally outstanding chops play a big part in the success of FAT. These musicians also played on half the tracks on Machacek's [sic] (Abstract Logix, 2008), and there's significant chemistry between them, whether tearing it up on jazz-fusion/rock of a very contemporary hue, or exploring more meditative terrain.
Machacek's love of guitarist/composer Frank Zappa continues to inform his writing much more than it does his playing. The heady ensemble unison lines of the circus romp "Why Not?' and the power chords and greased lightning keyboard glissandos of "Safe Word" are overtly Zappa-esque. And like Zappa, Machacek is drawn to dynamic, polyrhythmic drummers, as previous collaborations with former Zappa drummer Terry Bozzio, Jeff Sipe, Virgil Donati and Marco Minnemann testify. Pirker is another exciting stickman whose powerful though nuanced playing is technically impressive-a prerequisite to keeping pace with Machacek's imaginative soloing and intervallic leaps.
Whatever Machacek's influences, his voice remains one of the most instantly recognizable of contemporary guitarists/composers, and his melodic soloing throughout FAT is, as ever, quite exhilarating.
Though much of the music has a visceral, power-trio energy, there is playing of great sensitivity and the odd island of serenity; the jazzy "What a Time to be Me," built upon the rhythm section's creative bustle, highlights the guitarist's ability to captivate at both slow and fast tempos. Preuschi's solo piece "Ton Portrait" is more lullaby than ballad, and his gossamer touch and dreamy harmonics are clearly inspired by Jaco Pastorius' "Portrait of Tracy." The spacious grooves of "The Life of Herbert P" contain a gently stated melodicism that even Machacek's racing lines at the end cannot dispel. This piece was recomposed around an existing Pirker drum solo in the vein of Machacek's colossal 24 Tales (Abstract Logix, 2010), and though its start-stop dynamics are at odds with the flow of the music on the CD as a whole, it's an absorbing piece.
There's a programmed, electronic groove to Preuschi's rock/sci-fi-colored "Compromising Evidence" that's evocative of bassist Gary Willis' more outré work. Greater rhythmic drive fuels the punchy "D-Lite," with Machacek's gritty funk-jam punctuated by some wonderfully soaring soloing. "Studio Swing" has a more conventional jazz feel, though its gentle swing eventually makes way for a more rock-oriented solo from Machacek. Pirker's drums feature over strummed chords to close an arresting number. "Let's Not Argue" is a delightfully sparse yet atmospheric set closer that highlights the group interplay in a setting of greater intimacy.
FAT documents a vibrant performance by Machacek's latest trio and is another noteworthy addition to what is becoming a singularly impressive body of work by the Californian-based guitarist/composer. Machacek's trios-in fact all his projects-tend to be short-lived, which is part of the Austrian's fascination; where will he go next? He does though, reconvene this trio now and again, and it would be a blast if it recorded every couple of years, to reproduce this sort of potent electricity.
Track Listing: Why Not? (aka Disco Polka); What a Time to be Me; Safe Word; Comprising Evidence; Ton Portrait; D-Lite; The Life of Herbert P; Studio Swing; Let’s Not Argue; FYI.
Personnel: Alex Machacek: guitars; Herbert Pirker: drums; Raphael Preuschi: bass.