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Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller

Mark F. Turner By

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Jason Moran is an artist who is not afraid to look back while constantly pressing forward. The 2010 MacArthur Fellow is a leading jazz pianist with moments of kinetic energy, agility, and sensitivity, the likes of his one-time teacher, the great Jaki Byard. Whether performing with varied ensembles and musicians, bringing new perspectives as the Artistic Director for Jazz at The Kennedy Center or combining freestyle jazz with live skateboarders in San Francisco, Moran's passion and capacity is having an impact in the way jazz is seen and heard.

All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller re-envisions the music of the colorful pianist, singer, and entertainer who shook things up during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. Fats Waller's bright musical canvas is the perfect outlet for Moran's multicolored ideas; a boisterous amalgam of blues, jazz, and house music, reshaping famous Waller tunes like "Ain't Misbehaving" and "The Joint Is Jumpin.'" The recording harnesses Waller's infectious spirit caring less about the demarcation between musical genres while putting emphasis on Waller's incredible talents.

In collaboration with respected multi-genre musician/vocalist MeShell NdegeOcello, the release is an extension of ideas that came to fruition in 2011 through the Harlem Stage commissioned Fats Waller Dance Party. Ongoing dates at venues and universities found people eager to put their dance shoes on and Moran donning an oversized papier-mâché mask of Waller's head as the band provided hot grooves.

The signal that All Rise is anything but nostalgic arrives in the low pitched hip-hop processed voice in the funky "Put Your Hands on It" which sets up "Ain't Misbehavin'" with its snazzy horn arrangement, Moran jazzing it on Rhodes as Ndegeocello's sensual voice brings the song's famous lyrics. The musicians also include varied vocalists, members of Moran's Bandwagon trio—Taurus Mateen on electric bass and drummer Nasheet Waits, and a tight horn section with heightened contributions from trombonist Josh Roseman and trumpeter Leron Thomas.

The reworking of Waller's 1929 "Honeysuckle Rose" hits the sweet spot, the perfect combination of laid-back funkiness, smooth arranging and a soulful vamp. Though Waller was well known for his songwriting, Moran sheds light on his musicianship in "Lulu's Back in Town" with a riveting display of pianistic bravura and "Handful of Keys" where he adds his own virtuosic flair to Waller's well known stride-piano solo piece.

Moran proves once again that jazz is a transformative art-form in his unique arrangement of Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz." The tune is almost unrecognizable yet gorgeously reshaped as saxophonist Steve Lehman adds a rousing solo to Moran's touching version. Regardless of the era in which created, music still has the ability to move listeners in varied ways whether to sing, dance, or simply listen in a new way.

Track Listing: Put Your Hands on It; Ain't Misbehavin'; Yacht Club Swing; Lulu's Back in Town; Two Sleepy People; The Joint Is Jumpin'; Honeysuckle Rose; Ain't Nobody's Business; Fats Elegy; Handful of Keys; Jitterbug Waltz; Sheik of Araby / I Found a New Baby.

Personnel: Lisa Harris: vocals; Charles Haynes: drums, vocals; Stephen Lehman: saxophone; Tarus Mateen: bass; Jason Moran: Rhodes, piano, Wurlitzer; Charles Haynes: drums, vocals; Meshell Ndegeocello: vocals; Josh Roseman: trombone; Leron Thomas: trumpet, vocals; Nasheet Waits: drums.

Title: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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