All Rise: A Joyful Elegy For Fats Waller
There’s always one or two “purists” that want their wood but not trees – or whatever. You know, anytime it’s attempted – a rebranding, or a dragging of older jazz/bop styles into the now – there’s a cringe. Here we’re not talking about any Miles Davis/Quincy Jones hip-hop hopeful remake, instead the music of Fats Waller is modernised by thoughtful and talented contemporary jazzer, Jason Moran.
None of this sounds like Fats Waller – nor is it trying but there’s a clue in that subtitle, the ide of a joyful elegy – Fats Waller this might not be, but the music of Fats Waller sure sounds alive here. It sparkles, it dazzles, okay, sure – there’s a misstep or two perhaps (depends on your taste). But shit the playing here shines and with Me’Shell Ndegeocello in a featured singing role you could own this album – and be happy – just for her contributions. But then we must also praise the singing work of Lisa E. Harris, and Moran’s faithful rhythm section chums Nasheet Waits (drums) and Tarus Mateen (bass).
There’s the sort of samba feel The Roots might cook up bubbling up under the version of The Joint Is Jumpin’, Honeysuckle Rose features a hip-hop/modern-soul groove with trumpeter Leron Thomas and trombonist Josh Roseman layering the tune with silky horn lines. Ain’t Nobody’s Business retains its blues ballad feel but is transformed by Ndegeocello’s commanding vocal – she stirs it deep, Moran coasting beneath her, softly, stately and wise.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ is the opening highlight that sets the tone, gets the funk flowing and shows the sincerity of the project – a chance to show that the swing of the 1930s can have a place in the music of today without the artist interpreting feeling any need to simply lay out the baking paper and draw around the same lines.
And what was I saying about one or two missteps? I take that back. This album hums along nicely – fluctuating only between good and great.