Fat Cat Big Band
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Fat Cat Big Band


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"Edward Blanco's review of "Face""

The house band of New York's Fat Cat jazz club in the West Village, The Fat Cat Big Band, finally delivers the last piece of its trilogy project. Face is produced from a 2008, two-night recording session of thirty-one original charts, from which the group's first two albums—Meditations On the War For Whose Great God is the Most High / You Are God (Smalls, 2009) and Angels Praying for Freedom (Smalls, 2009)—were released simultaneously. The eleven-member light ensemble, the brainchild of guitarist/composer/bandleader Jade Synstelien, taps into America's rich musical heritage, breathing life into the swing music of the past, albeit with a decidedly modern touch. Synstelien's music fuses the classic Duke Ellington / Count Basie big band styles with a more progressive approach, keeping the swing alive and the bop grooving, propelled by melody-driven charts and a host of superb soloists.

Synstelien's title piece opens the music in traditional big band style, showcasing alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity, bassist Ben Meigners and pianist Jack Glottman, all of whom provide brief but tasteful solos. In tribute to Mitch Borden, owner of the historic Smalls Club, and who gave the leader his first break in New York, "Blues for Borden" kicks off in swinging fashion, drawing energy from the entire horn section. Burnished solos from all six players, among them saxophonist Stacy Dillard and trumpeter Brandon Lee, the track also features a guitar solo from Synstelien. The swing continues on such tunes as "Mommy Long Legs" and the hurried "Almost Sacha's Favorite Key," where Dillard is highlighted with a steamy tenor solo, a task he prolongs on the brisk finale, "Road Song for Stacy Dillard & Alexi David."

The ballads are short but sweet, beginning with "Love's Lost Rhapsody," and followed by the soft "Ballade of Eternal Love" and "Farewell Phoenix." No doubt the serious artist Synstelien surely is, he must possess a humorous side, as his vocal skills on "Bory-Alice" and the Latin-tinged "Mamacita Tu Es Muy Bonita" leave a lot to be desired and are, of course, forgivable if the attempt was made in jest. Notwithstanding, Face is arguably the best of the three Fat Cat Big Band recordings and Jade Synstelien's finest production to date. Offering a bit of swing and swagger, Synstelien's Fat Cat Big Band is poised to change the face of today's big band sound, where the creative energy of this outing is bound to draw attention. - Allaboutjazz.com

"Mark Corroto's review of "Meditations...""

So what does make a big band special? Is it the writing, arranging or performance? In the case of the Fat Cat Big Band, the answer is yes, yes, and yes. ... The music is infused with the jazz tradition once requisite for all big bands. The music had to make listeners want to shake their derriere and this recording surely does.

Synstelien has the knack of steering a big band like a much smaller outfit--turning phrases quickly and dosing out the power of his band in a most understated way. The opening "Samantha Swing" begins with Synstelien's solo guitar spilling into what could be a Les Brown dance track for the '60s. Synstelien's music has a knowledge of the dance band tradition with the snark of Charles Mingus' writing. ... In between there are frugal and spare solos by musicians that one day will become household names. - All About Jazz

"Edward Blanco Review of "Angels Praying for Freedom""

Synstelien provides terrific big band charts performed admirably by a stellar cast of players that make the music sound as if it were being performed by a traditional 15- to 18-piece large orchestra. The highlights are far too many to mention here and if one favors the big band genre, it would be advisable to sample these recordings and find out for yourself just how good the music is. There are impeccable solos throughout and the theme varies from the swing style of an Ellington band to the finesse of a more modern jazz ensemble. Synstelien does a masterful job with his charts, arrangements, and harnessing the talents of a remarkable group of musicians. - eJazzNews.com

"Duck Baker Review of "Meditations..." and "Angels...""

If anyone out there is wondering whether it's possible for contemporary musicians to come up with new things to do within the parameters of pre-Ornette modern jazz, these two CDs will go a long way towards allaying their doubts.

Synstelien's writing presents a marked contrast to much modern big band music in that it is so melody-driven ... You'll have no difficulty whistling tunes like "Subway Soliloquy;" the hard part might be not to whistle them! ... The orchestration often evokes the Ellington/Strayhorn-Mingus lineage, as does the use of shifting tempos. But the most important similarity to Mingus is the edgy feeling in the ensemble playing. For all its precision, the Fat Cat Big Band never sounds slick, a result that's anything but easy to achieve.

All in all, these two releases should establish Synstelien as a significant writer and the Fat Cat Big Band as one of the most refreshing groups to come along in years. - All About Jazz

"Gapplegate Music Blog Reviews"

On "Meditations...:" Guitarist Jade Synstelien ... plays a hip axe, with chordal and single line solos that are well worth hearing ... The tunes and charts are very cool, kind of like what Mingus might be playing if he were still around and fronting such a band. ... The soloists are very good and the music is just something on a very high level. This has to be one of the best, and one of the hippest big bands out there today.

On "Angels Praying for Freedom:" The Fat Cats put together an appealing set of charts, wonderfully executed. ... "Fat Cat Theme" blazes with a Mingus-on-fire thrust and shows you that some of the traditional Jazz forms are not dead by any means. There's new life on these tracks. And though the old forms are invoked a contemporary aura hovers over the set without a doubt.

On "Face:" They swing and execute like the Dickens, they have some very good soloists (like Sharel Cassity on alto) but it's Synstelien's charts that really make the band something hip. He has a most eccentric vocal style which he unleashes on several numbers. It is an acquired taste. I've acquired it. The rest are hard charging instrumentals and a balladic interlude or two. This is one of the most interesting big bands to emerge in recent years. I am rather taken with Mr. Synstelien's music. - Grego Applegate Edwards

"Mike Shanley Review of "Meditations...""

Packed with strong writing, lush arrangements, some humor and some political venting. ... Synstelien and crew definitely know how a modern, innovative big band should sound.

What stands out immediately is the group's fusing of modern harmonic direction with older big-band trappings. "Samantha Swing" kicks things off with Max Seigel blowing his bass trombone with a plunger mute. "Phil Stewart Figures Out Ofer Landsberg Playin' Charlie Parker Blues" features six of the horns trading twos like a Jazz at the Philharmonic session. ... The dreamy "I Do Know What Love Is" lives up to its title with full exploitation of the horn sections. "Fat Cat Theme" is a blistering version of large-scale bebop. ...

[Synstelien] and the band deserve high marks for adding to the legacy of big-band music rather than emulating the past glories of it. - JazzTimes

""The Commitments: The Fat Cat Big Band Brings a Die-Hard Attitude to a Leisure-Filled Venue""

The music swings hard, and the soloists light a fire inside Synstelien's challenging charts. At Fat Cat, college kids come to play pool, table tennis, shuffleboard, and tennis, largely oblivious to the music. Yet somehow the FCBB sets a mood and feels like an integral element of the room. And the band does attract its share of attentive listeners. ... Synstelien's writing reflects a doggedly idealistic view of jazz's essential ingredients--not a focus on raw complexity or virtuosity, but an intangible excitement brought about by the quest for the perfect song. ... With the infectious content of the FCBB discs, Synstelien puts his money where his mouth is, bringing highly developed arranging craft to music of marked accessibility. - David Adler for JazzTimes


1: Meditations on the War for Whose Great God is the Most High / You Are God (Smalls Records, 2009)
2: Angels Praying for Freedom (Smalls Records, 2009)
3: Face (Smalls Records, 2009)

All three records have enjoyed widespread FM, satellite, and online radio play and achieved consistent CMJ and Jazzweek charting status.



Led by guitarist and band leader Jade Synstelien, this 11-piece ensemble is a troupe of trailblazing young guns that packs a powerhouse punch of hard-swinging, foot-stomping big band bebop unlike any other big—or small—band currently performing. An extremely dynamic ensemble with inspirations ranging from Duke Ellington to Tom Waits, their unique and powerful appeal transcends today’s tame jazz paradigm, owing to a diverse personnel, their intense performance energy, and the rich appeal of Synstelien’s original compositions.

Born in Minneapolis in 1974, Jade picked up his first guitar at thirteen and came up on the road, traveling and living all over the United States and working as a professional musician since his teens. By age seventeen Jade was scoring music for big bands, funk and dance bands, world beat and reggae groups, and eventually large-scale works for jazz orchestra. Then and now, Jade strives to combine tradition with innovation to deliver a rich and engaging offering that musicians and audiences will love equally.

Jade has the singular goal of bringing American musical heritage to the people of the U.S. and beyond, to spread the appreciation and understanding of jazz, our major cultural contribution to the world. He came to New York City in 2001 to learn from the jazz elders and living legends and to form the orchestra that would eventually become the Fat Cat Big Band.

Mitch Borden, owner of the historic Smalls club, gave Jade the opportunity to nurture this dream in his club, and after many gigs and years of developing the band with the greatest rising talent in the city, the Fat Cat Big Band has been noted by critics, colleagues, and fans alike as one of the most outstanding up-and-coming acts in the jazz landscape today.

Please visit www.fatcatbigband.com to hear, see, and read more!