With a name like Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter, you might expect the new album by the Okuden Quartet — bass clarinetist / soprano clarinet player / alto saxophonist / flautist Mat Walerian, pianist Matthew Shipp, double bassist / shakuchi player William Parker, and drummer / percussionist Hamid Drake — to be pretentious or silly or a bit too much. Thankfully, the music on Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter (CD, digital) — and yes, I am going to write it out in full every time because SEO — is anything but. Instead, it’s an impressive collection of acoustic jazz that’s both moody and manic, and a worthy successor to the previous albums these four have recorded in various configurations.
An epic two-disc set,
Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter fulfills the promise made by the progression of the first Live At Okuden, the 2015 live album by Mat Walerian and Matthew Shipp; the second Live At Okuden, the 2016 live album Walerian and Shipp made with Hamid Drake, and This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People, the 2017 studio collection Walerian and Shipp recorded with William Parker. (2018’s Sonic Fiction doesn’t count, technically, since it was a Matthew Shipp Trio album that featured Walerian, and not as Spike Lee would say, a Walerian / Shipp joint.)
To start, Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter opens with “The Forest Council,” an atmospheric, eighteen-minute-long tone poem that has Mat Walerian using echo and distance to great effect, much like he did on the original Live At Okuden. Even when it gets a bit loose, and prominently features William Parker’s expressive bass, it never diverges into noisy territory.
No, for that you have to go to the second track on Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter, “Thelonious Forever.” On it, Mat Walerian immediately switches to aggro mode, a move mirrored by Matthew Shipp, whose playing is also more sporadic. Though it’s not a total left turn, in part because William Parker and Hamid Drake are used on it so sparingly until about the mid-way point, at which everyone gets a bit scattershot (in a good way).
Things on Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter continue with the loose, free jazz adjacent approach of “Magic World,” a sprawling, 37-minute-long three-song suite. Like “Thelonious Forever,” the first song of “Magic World,” “Part 1 – Study,” also opens with a spartan approach, but grows noisier and more aggressive as it progresses, especially where Matthew Shipp and William Parker are concerned. It even swings a bit, as if the guys were momentarily transported into the smoke-filled bar of a noir novel and realized the noisy stuff just wouldn’t cut it, daddio.
The foursome then get playful in a rather funk way for the second and third “Magic World” songs, “Part 2 – Work” and “Part 3 – Life.” Not in a James Brown, or Parliament-Funkadelic kind of way, mind you; more like the swagger of a New Orleans jazz band if they were big fans of late-era Coltrane.
Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter then gets back to free form aggression with “Sir Denis,” a loose and often noisy track that goes beyond the free jazz adjacent approach of “Thelonious Forever” and “Magic World: Part 1 – Study,” and into the fully free territory William Parker’s quartet In Order To Survive explored on such albums as 1996’s Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy, 1998 The Peach Orchard, and 1999’s Posium Pendasem.
Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter then returns to the atmospheric approach of its opener for its penultimate track, “Business With William.” Like “The Forest Council,” “Business With William” has a slower and more spartan approach, though it’s also similar to “Thelonious Forever” and “Magic World: Part 1 – Study” in that, towards the end, it veers into more aggressive territory.
A similar approach is also taken by “Lesson II,” which is both the last track on Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter and a sequel to the song “Lesson” that opened This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People. It’s a fitting end to this epic collection.
And epic it is. Maybe to epic. At nearly two hours, Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter can be a bit too much to take in one sitting. Granted, that’s not an issue for people who buy it on CD — or rather, on two CDs — but people who go digital would be advised to split it in two. Maybe even with “Magic World” as its own set.
Regardless of how you listen to this,
or configure it, Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn’t Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter is yet another epic collection of both hauntingly beautiful mood tone poems and explosive free jazz-adjacent sonic paintings. All four players are at the top of their game here, and, more importantly, work as well together on these tunes as they have on their previous collaborations. And there’s nothing silly about that.