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Album Review: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller by Jason Moran
Fantastic, Based on 5 Critics
The Guardian - 100 Based on rating 5/5
Contemporary makeovers of the hits of classic-jazz legends can make you want to run for cover, but this celebration of the 1930s swing legacy of Thomas “Fats” Waller comes from a credible source: the incisive mind and cutting-edge methods of award-winning Texas pianist Jason Moran. He has already shown his class in this territory with a startling reappraisal of the music of Thelonious Monk. Waller was a big-time pop singer as well as a piano virtuoso, so Moran hit on the inspired idea of giving R&B, soul and jazz star Meshell Ndegeocello a central vocal role.
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.
Fats Waller ought to be on the minds of today’s vanguard jazz musicians. These musicians, leaving behind the old jazz battles of the last decades of the 1900s, have been boldly finding artistic use and continuity with today’s popular music forms. That’s a practice that was common—and respected—in the early decades of jazz but became semi-verboten when jazz became an art form struggling for respect in the 1950s and ‘60s.
An invitation from Barbra Streisand to record a duet is still the closest thing in pop to a royal summons. Her newest duets album, “Partners” (Columbia), with its blurred edges and pastel shades, is even mistier, gauzier and more texturally diffuse than such confections as “Guilty.” The instrumentation and the vocal tracks are so processed in pursuit of a high-gloss perfection that any sense of two people standing side by side and singing their hearts out is lost. Some cuts are so swamped in echo that Ms.
In this risk-averse music industry, there's never a shortage of tribute albums. But few carry the same vibrant sense of adventure as Jason Moran's loving homage to one of pop music's earliest heroes, Fats Waller. Anyone familiar with Moran (whose last album, 2010's "Ten," topped a number of year-end lists) knows he's as much an ambassador for jazz history as he is an advocate for the malleability of its future.