By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Luckily, it's not raining too hard. We're sitting in Espresso Royale's expansive smoking section--two sidewalk tables on Hennepin Avenue--and J.T. Bates is explaining Fat Kid Wednesdays' working philosophy. "We've never really tried to be a band, never recorded," the drummer offers, lighting a cigarette.
After more than four years as a public entity, and considerably longer as a playing one, the locally based jazz trio has hatched an album--The Art of Cherry, a tribute to trumpeter and composer Don Cherry, best known for his stint in Ornette Coleman's "classic" quartet. Next month, the notorious homebodies also embark on a six-date tour of France, where they played three gigs last summer. "For a long time," Bates continues, "we only played at our houses. We have this slow pace that I think has been great. We realized on the way back from a show we played in Eau Claire last month that it was our first out-of-town gig aside from the French shows."
The kids may be fat, but they're nobody's idlers; all work relentlessly inside the local jazz world and out. Bassist Adam Linz, also of George Cartwright's GloryLand PonyCat, is a working DJ who excels at beat-mixing trickily constructed IDM. Saxophonist Michael Lewis plays in Happy Apple as well as his aunt Wendy's meta-rock band, Redstart. Bates's extra-Wednesdays activities range from solo laptopping to recent dates with Rob Skoro.
Still, the trip couldn't come at a better time. St. Paul's Turf Club, host of the band's Monday night Clown Lounge residence for the better part of the millennium, changed hands recently. Rather than cope with the transformations that new ownership inevitably engenders, the fellows decided to leave the nest--just in time for a transatlantic flight.
Globetrotter Cherry spent a good deal of time in France, where he worked with Polish composer Krzysztof Komeda on the soundtrack for Jerzy Skolimowski's Le Départ (The Departure) in the early '60s. The album's opener, "Chaque heure est un départ" ("Every Hour Is a Departure"), evokes Gato Barbieri's music for the later Last Tango in Paris--not without reason. The saxophonist, who played on the original Komeda session, clearly paid attention.
Augmented by Lewis's uncle Greg on trumpet, Fat Kid play the song straight at first, letting its voluptuous theme sink in before easing into a bebop-flavored dialogue between relatives that breaks down to unaccompanied abstraction. Bates and Linz's reentry signals a move into freer terrain still, horns gamboling around the melody like a pair of feral lambs.
As with most of the album, the band learned the song by ear. "Michael functions better that way," Bates offers. "He'd rather immediately internalize it, as opposed to using a chart for a while and finally memorizing it." It's easy to see why: Cherry, an arranger's arranger, rarely wrote for small ensembles. As the trio's sole non-rhythm section voice, Lewis has to capture and convey the better part of each composition's melodic content, carrying the weight of several players. The sooner he understands a piece on an immediate physical level, the better.
But the business side of the record came easily, courtesy of Jean Rochard, who tapped the band for his new Hope Street label's inaugural release. The Minnesota Sur Seine festival co-founder and Nato label head also came up with the Cherry-picking concept. "I met Jean through Michael," Bates recalls. "He really dug Happy Apple and helped them out with their first Universal France record. Shortly after, he called me and asked if Fat Kid wanted to do a record. It's really cool--having never tried to do anything like that and this guy just calls us and says, 'Hey.' I feel really lucky."