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All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (2014)

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Jason Moran

Yeah, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller is a tribute to the great stride pianist, but in Jason Moran's hands, it's not what one would expect. This album isn't full of stride piano, but it is full of Fats Waller's larger persona as a performer. Waller mixed jokes and comic routines, and did whatever he could to connect with his audience in his act, and if his piano playing was the hinge, it sat on a door that opened straight to the dancefloor. This album had its beginnings when Moran was commissioned by the N.Y.C. performing arts venue Harlem Stage Gatehouse to create a tribute toWaller as part of its Harlem Jazz Shrines series. Moran came up with a unique combination of piano, vocal jazz, and dance that used Waller's signature songs as springboards. Collaborating with singerMeshell Ndegeocello, wearing a large papier-mâché mask of Waller's head created for him by Haitian artist Didier Civil, and adding interpretive dancers, Moran called his conceptual tribute The Fats Waller Dance Party, and All Rise is the studio-recorded rendition of the project. It's a stunning mix of piano jazz with moody, winsome late-night vocals, and it has plenty of get-up-and-go when it's time for it. If it doesn't sound much like Waller, one could imagine Waller would love it, and his signature songs are well represented, including "Ain't Misbehavin'," which Ndegeocello sings with a wistfully sultry edge, "The Joint Is Jumpin'," which is just that, a joyous and yet graceful romp, and a ethereal take on "Ain't Nobody's Business," which in Moran and Ndegeocello's hands becomes a dark, moody, and elegantly defiant statement in modal jazz. This set manages to be reverent to Waller's original recordings, but since facsimile was never the goal, it also manages to create a completely new veneer for them, and the end result is a marvelous tribute that still retains its own shape and coherency.