In the world of jazz few names register as deep a sense of nostalgia as Fats Waller. Emperor of the stride piano, raconteur and comedian, Waller built up a persona that is an indelible part of jazz history. This recording from the late 70s finds Jones in trio and sextet settings and firmly entrenched in the Waller bag that was his repertoire of the time. Rather than simply aping Waller’s fathoms deep legacy Jones makes certain to place his own memorable stamp on the tunes. He couldn’t resort to simple imitation even if he wanted to. His voice on the piano is invested with far too much originality and imagination.
Instead it’s Jones paying respects while staying true to his own brand of bop-inflected swing. Aiding and abetting are a small group of players who are not only Jones’ peers in terms of musical stature but also each steadfastly under Waller’s spell as well. The arrangements of the tunes are taken directly from the musical version of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” crafted by Bill Holman, and in faithful reverence to the group combinations favored by Waller Jones opts to alternate back and forth between trio and sextet on each of the pieces. His choice in rhythm partners matches his taste in material and Davis and Haynes deliver an ideal mix of bouyancy and restraint. Haynes’ effervescent drum breaks on “Lounging at the Waldoff” and Davis’ corpulent bass lines offer repeated testimony to how well these two veteran improvisers coalesce with Jones own rubric.
The three compositions with Ojeda, Edwards and Burrell widen the group sound at the expense of a modicum of cohesion, but are similarly successful in their overall impact. Edwards tenor is a tasty tonic and it’s also interesting to hear his contributions on clarinet, a reed instrument that was a rarity in his arsenal. Burrell weaves his usual string sorcery and the under-appreciated Ojeda supplies the group with a playfully brassy punch. Overall this disc serves up an pleasant program of performances that doesn’t break any new bread, but delivers a loyal and beautifully played tribute to one jazz music’s legendary figures.