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Fat Cat Big Band: Face

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Face is an album with layers. Each of the ten tracks offers a nuanced explication of anticipation, heartbreak and spirituality. The glistening veneer of giddiness and celebration is attractive and reviving. But if you listen closely, there's also yearning and loneliness and a grasping for spiritual fulfillment. The entire album is soulful in the way some popular, accessible poets are soulful—you respond viscerally to the beauty of the art and only careful revisits will teach you how to appreciate it in its entirety.

The splendid arrangements are the backbone to the album, but the musicians are the source of innovation and newness, true in "Ballade of Eternal Love," a blithe and full song with earnest delivery and vigorous sax. There are 11 musicians who bring an understanding of classical style and a willingness to experiment with sonic form and presence. There is Sharel Cassity on the alto sax and Jack Glottman on piano—smooth but strong, brisk but steady. There is Stacy Dillard, nearly ubiquitous and deservedly so. And there is leader/guitarist Jade Synstelien, whose vocal delivery is explosive and thrilling. Their music is deeply evocative of the stuff produced by famed big-band virtuosos but is spun with a freshness and newness that piques the listener's curiosity.

The record begins with the title track, a piece with a classical form and modern arrangement that boasts a mischievous tempo and just-so wistfulness that's mediated by a synchronicity of instrumental engagement. "Mamacita Tu Es Bonita" is a fun, immediately memorable song that can only be properly enjoyed while dancing and the swiveling crescendo of the vocals sounds as if it was properly recorded in the same way. Face closes with "Road Song for Stacy Dillard & Alexi David," a piece that shows off the same kind of swagger and ease as "Mamacita" while being as different as it could possibly be in both style and substance. It captures the band members' ability to dress up whimsy in a suit and make it sound unforgettable, as is the rest of the album.

Track Listing: Face; Blues for Borden; Love's Lost Rhapsody; Mommy Long Legs; Bory-Alice; Almost Sacha's Favorite Key; Ballade of Eternal Love; Mamacita Tu Es Muy Bonita; Farewell Phoenix; Road Song for Stacy Dillard & Alexi David.

Personnel: Jade Synstelien: guitar, vocals (5, 8); Phil Stewart: drums; Ben Meigners: bass; Jack Glottman: piano; Sharel Cassity: alto saxophone; Stacy Dillard: tenor saxophone; Geoff Vidal: tenor saxophone; Tatum Greenblatt: trumpet; Brandon Lee: trumpet; Jonathan Voltzok: trombone; Max Seigel: bass trombone.

Title: Face | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Smalls Records

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