Alex Machacek: FAT (2012)
Around for more than a decade, Alex Machacek's first record as a leader (renamed, with characteristically bone-dry wit, as Mc Hacek) was Featuring Ourselves (Next Generation, 1999), but it was when the Austrian-born/California-resident guitarist moved to Abstract Logix that more significant attention came, first with his stunning, year-besting [sic] (2006). Three more records followed, culminating in another year-topper, 24 Tales (2010), an equally staggering set where the guitarist repeated [sic]'s concept of "recomposing"-writing music around, in the case of [sic], a Terry Bozzio drum solo-but this time, scoring Marco Minnemann's expansive-and massively impressive-52-minute drum solo. FAT is already destined for the same "best of" list action for 2012, but with a considerably different focus.
In between [sic], Machacek's Improvision (2007) and The Official Triangle Sessions (2008) weighed a little more heavily on performance and interplay, first with drummer Jeff Sipe and bassist Matthew Garrison, and then with Sipe and bassist Neal Fountain. FAT sits somewhere in-between, with no shortage of compositional focus and some recomposing, including the middle section of "Why Not," a quirky, hilarious opener that-not unlike Norway's Farmers Market and its recent Slav to the Rhythm (Division, 2012)-packs more into five minutes than most mere mortals do on an entire record. Machacek and his trio travel from strange circus-like evocations to high velocity polkas-even, as Machacek calls it, in a recent All About Jazz interview, some "disco-polka." But the tune also incorporates long, knotty melodies that, despite occasionally traveling at near-light speed, are somehow immediately memorable, as well as brief improvisational episodes that, whether warm and clean-toned or overdriven and sustained-resembling guitarist Allan Holdsworth's sound but with a little extra bite-demonstrate Machacek's ability to think on the fly.
Machacek's music is undeniably cerebral; even darker, laidback writing like "What a Time to Be Me" remains sophisticated, its changes and harmonic vernacular reflecting an evolving language that has become instantly recognizable despite its unrelenting unpredictability.
No reflection on the still rake-thin Machacek, FAT stands for Fabulous Austrian Trio, bringing back [sic]'s Austrian contingent: bassist Raphael Preuschl and drummer Herbert Pirker. This time, Preusschi's spends his time on electric bass, with his harmonics-driven solo feature, "Ton Port," a direct and lovely homage to Jaco Pastorius and the late bassist's "Portrait of Tracey."
As cerebral as FAT is, there are plenty of visceral moments, including the overtly fusion-esque "Safe Word," with its mid-song Machacek/Pirker duet one of the album's hottest moments. But there's also respite from the complex writing and powerhouse playing. FAT ends (excluding the humorous and informative 11-second "FYI") with "Let's Not Argue," a tranquil piece that may be a ballad by Machacek's standards, but that just means it's a ballad unlike any that are likely to be found anywhere else.
In-demand with artists like keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson and Planet X drummer Virgil Donati, Machacek may be capable of fitting into any situation, but it's in the context of his own challenging, unorthodox and always surprising music that he shines the most. FAT is just one more excellent reason why.
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 Preuschl: bass.