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FAT: #awesome

John Kelman By

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While the appropriately titled #awesome represents Alex Machacek's third album in six years with his (similarly witty and self-effacingly monikered) FAT (Fabulous Austrian Trio), this trifecta of virtuosic Austrian musicians goes much further back. Both bassist Raphael Preuschl and drummer Herbert Pirker appeared on roughly half of the expat-Austrian/Los Angeles-based guitarist's acclaimed 2006 Abstract Logix debut, [sic], while Machacek and Preuschl can be heard together on the even earlier The Next Generation of Sound (Extraplatte, 2000).

In the intervening years between [sic] and Machacek, Preuschl and Pirker's first official release as FAT, FAT (Abstract Logix, 2012), the guitarist released a number of similarly impressive albums for the label, including 2007's Improvision and '10's especially impressive 24 Tales. But with FAT it became clear that Machacek had found the perfect group for his appealing complex compositional constructs that, predicated on the guitarists's keen attention to sound, form and detail, also provide no shortage of space for freewheeling, dazzling improvisational élan and the trio's increasingly empathic interaction.

And so, with #awesome, Machacek's Fabulous Austrian Trio continues to move even further towards the more relaxed environs that defined (Living the Dream) (Abstract Logix, 2016), albeit with some differences. First and foremost, while (Living the Dream) moved FAT in a more egalitarian direction, compositionally speaking, with Preuschl contributing four of its eleven tracks, #awesome returns the writing focus to Machacek, who contributes nine of the album's ten tracks, with only the through-composed 53 seconds of "Turing" credited as "Preuschl's idea.'" Its unknown whether Machacek's guitar voicings were actually written by the bassist but, with Machacek delivering them alongside his band mates, this brief interlude and de facto introduction to Machacek's episodic "Holiday in Temelin" still feels as one with the rest of the album.

Yes, plenty has already been written about his roots in Allan Holdsworth's legato style and expansion upon the late guitarist's knotty harmonic voicings, but Machacek has long since asserted his own identity. Amongst many other things, Machacek's approach to harmony allows for shaping chord changes with internals that can, at times, ascend and descend concurrently in seemingly impossible ways. Similarly, much has also been spoken about the guitarist's penchant for Frank Zappa-informed writing, featuring episodic, rapid-fire compositional shifts that often feel more like complex collages that traverse a broad range of terrains than writing possessed of more straightforward form. But as the guitarist enters the south side of his forties, with a resume that includes Eddie Jobson's UKZ and semi-U.K. reunion, an ongoing teaching gig at LA's Musicians Institute and collaborations with British keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband, the late ex-King Crimson/Asia bassist/vocalist John Wetton and drummer Virgil Donati, amongst others, Machacek has long since emerged as a unique voice that is truly greater than the sum of its multifaceted musical touchstones.

Like FAT and (Living the Dream), #awesome opens with a snare drum press roll into a disco-centric piece that demonstrates the trio's penchant for warping the heck out of the genre's more simplistic rhythms and changes. Following FAT's opening "Why Not? (AKA Disco Polka)" and (Living the Dream)'s set-opener "Disco Hits," "Disco Suite" intersperses four-on-the-floor drumming, thumping bass lines and funkified guitar chords with a complex thematic blend of linear and chordal phrases.

As just one example of the FAT's combination of reach and wit, "Disco Suite" exemplifies a trio creating music that, while sometimes not exactly for the faint of heart, is inherently attractive by, at the same time, never taking itself too seriously. Following a serpentine theme, Preuschl shifts to an impressive combination of left and right hand tapping, supported by Pirker's cymbal-heavy groove and some otherworldly atmospherics from Machacek, before morphing into (yes) disco-driven octave-driven bass lines that open up some solo space for Machacek. Employing a subtly overdriven tone, the guitarist layers crunchy chords and lines employing both remarkable intervallic leaps and surprisingly singable melodies, all lending his first feature of the set an impressively spontaneous form of its own.

Featuring string arrangements for two violins and cello that take the tune out on a veritably booty-shaking groove, "Disco Suite" sets the stage for an album that, despite possessing plenty of impressive chops throughout, continues the trio's gradual move towards the more laidback and lyrical environs begun with (Living the Dream). Machacek's beautiful voicings may, indeed, define the more relaxed "Good Morning," it's underscored by a collective marriage of effortless mastery, unrelenting virtuosity and, despite all that, remarkable avoidance of excess. This is a group with an astute collective ear for the right note, phrase, chord, pulse or color for every moment, with Preuschl taking a particularly impressive solo which blends unerring technique with deeper lyricism, before Machacek takes a potent closing solo, his in-the-moment improvisational construction of whammy bar-inflected lines and voicings feeling wholly organic, despite their undeniable intricacies.

"Fonque du Cochon" grooves even harder than "Disco Suite" but remains more firmly entrenched within its funkier confines, demonstrating just how easily Machacek and Preuschl can turn a single-chord vamp into something far more engaging and intriguing, always anchored by the equally provocative Pirker, whether the drummer is in a supportive or dominant role.

But it's the back-to-back-to-back "You're Wrong," "Turing" and "Holiday in Temelin" that most fully highlight #awesome's expansive reach. "You're Wrong" may be the album's gentlest piece; still, it's a ballad only FAT could manage. Machacek delivers inimitable, whammy bar-infused harmonies, softly lyrical yet utterly personal melodies and gradually intensifying legato musings, while Preuschl empathically marries perfect simplicity with more labyrinthine support. Despite some of his sparest accompaniment of the set, Pirker is still afforded a relatively short but surprisingly exhilarating turn near the composition's end, contributing to a seven-minute ballad that is surely one of #awesome's most beautiful—and affecting—performances.

With "Turing" acting as a brief interspersal segue, FAT turns from the gentle lyricism and poignant balladry of "You're Wrong" to "Holiday in Temelin," a far-and-wide gamut of mind-boggling form and freedom that features some of the album's most exhilaratingly virtuosic soloing, as Preuschl's heavily effected lines creates a densely overdriven context-setter for Machacek's shorter feature of equally oblique, legato phrasing. Barely crossing the four-minute mark, "Holiday in Temelin" may only provide minimal space for these solos, but both Preuschl and Machacek take full advantage. Still, they do so within an episodic composition that conjoins mind-bending thematics and crunching metallic power chords that rapidly alternate with quirky injections of cleaner-toned bass and guitar arpeggios, before its byzantine theme, filled with ever-shifting harmonies, is viscerally bolstered by Preuschl's initially simple but increasingly frenetic lines and Pirker's equally frenzied kit work.

"6Toli" reflects FAT's ongoing move towards a more seamlessly meshing of virtuosic intellect and eloquent lyricism, imbued with with irrepressible rhythmic idiosyncrasies and deeply physical groove. "That's Deep," featuring Machacek's positively gorgeous a cappella intro, is #awesome's simplest composition, even as the guitarist layers lush, barely discernible atmospheric clouds over the whammy bar/overdriven tone he chooses for a solo filled, between the trio's astute collective choices, with as much space as its melodic, harmonic and rhythmic content. Somehow referencing, in the subtlest fashion, George Gershwin's "Someone to Watch Over Me," it's a composition that demonstrates, despite its distance from a more overt jazz tradition, how it's still there to be found, buried in amongst the weeds.

With a return to somewhat knotty thematics, "Finally" still closes the album on a softer note, with a mellow groove driving some of Machacek's most soulful playing ever, whether it's the warm voicings, the near-twang of his grittier phrases or the denser timbre with which he concludes his solo. As the trio settles into a comfortable, sensual groove about two minutes before the end of the piece, Justin Randi (owner of Los Angeles' renowned the Baked Potato venue) delivers a spoken word band introduction that may not be as deep a baritone as Barry White, but accomplishes the same effect. Over #awesome's dreamiest groove, and before Machacek's brief outro solo brings another fine FAT album to a close, Randi speaks:

"Well you made it this far into the record
So that says a
lot about you.
Let's introduce this group of
fine musicians...
We have here, on bass, Raphael Preuschl.
Layin' it down on the drums, Herbert Pirker.
And those fine sounds on guitar, Alex Machacek.
We miss you Barry and we know you're lookin' down on us,
So you got me, Justin Randi, of the world-famous Baked Potato,
C'mon Alex, take it away...."

It's a suitably humorous end to an album that, by not taking itself too seriously no matter how challenging the music gets, is a 21st Century reference to Britain's Canterbury scene but without the intrinsic Britishisms.

FAT, as in fabulous? Most certainly. (Living the Dream)? To be sure. #awesome? Absolutely.

Track Listing: Disco Suite; Good Morning; Fonque de Cochon; You're Wrong; Turing; Holiday in Temelin; 6Toli; That's Deep...; Heavy Trash; Finally.

Personnel: Alex Machacek: guitars; Raphael Preuschl: bass; Herbert Pirker: drums; Nino Böhm: violin (1); Yulia Bayer: violin (1); Nicki Böhm: cello (1); Justin Randi: voice (10).

Title: #awesome | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Self Produced


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