From their founding in 1996 through their touring slowdown in 2001, Fat Mama was emblematic of a broader move by jam bands as groups began to meld an electronic influence to their music. Through their three releases, one can see a progression from Herbie Hancock-influenced fusion to a new sound, similar to the transformation of other bands like Lake Trout and the Disco Biscuits.
MamatusMamatus, the band’s debut album, was recorded soon after the band began playing out in their hometown of Boulder, CO. From the start, their large lineup — a septet for most of their career — created a thick, polytextural sound. The tandem horns of Brett Joseph (tenor saxophone) and Jon Gray (trumpet and trombone) gave the band an anchor to work around. In 1998, the band relocated to Providence, RI, in order to be closer to the fledgling east coast improv scene. Soon, the band’s two extraneous percussionists were gone, original bassist Marvin Garrett was replaced by Jonti Simmian, and the group added multi-instrumentalist Kevin Kendrick (vibraphone and turntables). Making regular stops at venues like New York’s Wetlands Preserve, the band’s sound began to mature radically, as documented on a self-released live disc as well as *Loadstar 8.1, recorded in May of 2000. Though the band was still adept at the bulbous grooves they made their name with, the overall sound of the band became increasingly more textural. With the addition of Kendrick, the group was able to enter free ambient spaces more readily. Much of the new music was amply aided by a battery of analog synths manipulated by keyboardist Eric Deutsch, who had previously played a more straight-ahead melodic role in the band’s sound. Drummer Joe Russo, in particular, responded to this new direction particularly well, developing quickly into a musically sensitive drummer far beyond his years. Soon, Russo was in high demand as a player in various New York ensembles, such as Electron, the side project of Marc Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits and various incarnations of the Flaco All-Stars. While the band continued to grow artistically — scoring the successful independent film Trans, directed by guitarist Jonathan Goldberger’s brother Julian — it became increasingly difficult to support the octet on the road. In 2001, the band began to scale back its touring, playing occasional shows in the northeast. Russo and Kendrick, in specific, have been quite active in the New York music scene.
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