Live @ The Fat Cat is an intensely burning live recording which documents two gigs from November of 2005. Sporting killer chops along a natural talent for building a solo, Sheryl Bailey is a joy to listen to. But the pleasure does not stop there, as organist Gary Versace (who played on Loren Stillman's It Could Be Anything) and drummer Ian Froman (from the Murley/Braid Quartet's Mnemosyne's March) match her every step of the way. The trio's members have been together for a while now and are extremely tight, flexible and comfortable with each other.
It is absolutely no stretch whatsoever to talk about this release in the same breath as Saudades (ECM, 2006), by the power trio of John Scofield, Larry Golding and Jack DeJohnette, although the Bailey 3 might blush at the comparison. Every one of the players here matches those stars in sheer musicality if not bravura, and they definitely know how to bring an audience along, capture them and then send them off.
Bailey has developed quite a following, and the Fat Cat crowd was there for this band. What they got were tunes from a variety of angles, showing off Bailey's unique compositional skills and the band's tasty theatrical sense. One second Bailey will be burning, literally throwing sparks, but then she'll back off and Versace will take his time and slowly build a solo, followed every step of the way by Froman, who continually pushes the music forward.
It is not only within each tune that the band shows how to breathe musically; the mix of tunes makes for a nice record. Starting with "Cedar's Mood," which shifts in and out of a solid groove, and later moving through a dark and evocative "Elvin People," the album centers on "Dance of the Dream Maker," which has a light Latin feel. The very pretty "The Wishing Well," written for David Krakauer, takes the energy level down a bit, replacing it with mystery and passion. From there it's "Swamp Thang," with a Bo Diddley riff and Bailey's cranked guitar bringing whoops from the crowd.
The mainstream is alive and well, and Bailey, Versace and Froman play with an enticing mix of groove, chops and intensityplus enough for the mind to make this release a well-rounded package with something for everyone. If you haven't caught Saudades yet, by all means check out Live @ the Fat Cat and work backwards.
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