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Fabio Morgera and Turbulence at Fat Cat

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Fabio Morgera and Turbulence
Fat Cat
New York, New York
The trumpeter and composer Fabio Morgera brought warmth to a genre better known for being cool, as he led his "freejazzfunk" band, Turbulence, through hushed moments and energetic surges of music. His music was upbeat and daring—the kind of music that doesn't want to be kept up with.

Jazz often feels like a thing of the past, something delicate that cultured New Yorkers occasionally dust off to admire, something you need knowledge and money to enjoy. But at Fat Cat, the West Village venue where Morgera performed, general admission is always $3 (Admission at the Village Vanguard that night was $35.).

At Fat Cat, the drinks are cheap, and attractions including billiards, chess, Scrabble and ping-pong draw a crowd of college students and young professionals. During Morgera's performance, the audience whistled and danced and buzzed with conversations and laughter. And while Fat Cat certainly didn't provide Morgera with the same prestige as the Vanguard (although he's played there too), the rowdy crowd at Fat Cat has its own advantages. Here he can experiment, something musicians can't always get away with at other venues. "I'm less inhibited," he explained.

Morgera is one of the founders of the band Groove Collective, whose 2006 release was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category. Though born in Italy, he's been gracing the New York jazz scene for the past 20 years. Among his several albums, Neapolitan Heart, is his latest.

During his concert at Fat Cat, no instrument was played with false modesty. The band played to be heard, no question, and while there are no truly great musicians who don't love to play, not everyone shows it like these guys do. The band was smiling and nodding, and pretty soon, everyone else was too. Morgera was happy with the night's performance, something he says he doesn't always feel.

Fat Cat is stuffed away in the dimly lit basement of 75 Christopher Street in New York City. Pipes and vents are exposed, and couches and tables are strewn throughout the bar. You certainly don't go for the décor; Fat Cat is decorated to function, and that's about it, but on a Friday night, it's too crowded to notice. In short, it's the kind of place where you'd expect to find a few fellas in pinstripe suits working out a shady deal over a game of pool. It's an easy-going juke joint. It's the bee's knees.

There's no stage at Fat Cat, so between sets, the band mingled with the audience, chatting with aspiring musicians and dashing to the bar to grab beers. When Morgera returned after intermission, he introduced the musicians quickly and started playing. He's not one for speeches, but nobody comes here for speeches—they come for drinks or pool or, if they're lucky, great music.

At Fat Cat, timing is key. You might get a seat, you might not—if you do and happen to get up, consider it gone. You could get a sub-par or routine performance—or you could get Morgera, a one-armed trumpet player banning the blues from jazz, slipping and sliding over notes, playing high-energy songs with stop-and-go suspense. (He lost the arm in an accident at the age of four.)

Fat Cat also holds a jam session at 1:30 a.m. this is open to whoever shows up. You could get awful musicians or guys who are just OK—you could get Alex Han, the saxophonist who won the Young Soloist Award at age 12 and who released his first album when he was 14. More recently, Han graduated a year early from the Berklee College of Music and toured with Grammy-winning musician Marcus Miller.

Han, 21, has been joining the Fat Cat jam sessions regularly since he moved to New York in February. When Morgera invited Han to play with Turbulence, there were no introductions. Morgera set him up with a mic and pointed to the music sheet. Han breathed new life into an already enthusiastic performance. The dim lights gleamed off Han's alto sax, and as the notes jumped, so did he. Han hopped up and down as he played and was as compelling to watch as he was to hear.

You never know what you'll find at Fat Cat. But the element of surprise was part of jazz's original charm—and that charm is abundant in the freejazzfunk of Morgera, the raw talent of Alex Han and at Fat Cat itself.

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