Pianist and composer Jason Moran had been experimenting with his project called Fats Waller Dance Party for a couple of years before entering the studio to cut his fine new album All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (Blue Note), performing it all over the globe (including twice in Chicago) with a relatively steady cast of collaborators. The subject of his homage—the idiosyncratic composer, singer, and pianist Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller—was a shape-shifting entertainer of the highest rank whose individual talents were always secondary to his ability to engage a crowd and get them moving, and Moran treats that knack as sacrosanct in this effort, transforming standards like “Honeysuckle Rose” and “The Joint Is Jumpin'” with strong doses of modern R&B and hip-hop. The primary drummer for the project is Charles Haynes, a session pro who’s worked of late with Kanye West and Lady Gaga, while the album was mixed for maximum punch by Bob Power, a vet of records by the Roots and A Tribe Called Quest.
From the beginning Moran’s primary collaborator on the project has been singer Meshell Ndegeocello—a savvy choice—who moves easily between the various modes explored here. Lisa Harris, who was the primary vocalist with Moran when he headlined the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2013, brings a less sultry, more jaunty lead to “Honeysuckle Rose,” shadowed by Ndegeocello’s mahogany harmonies. The album also includes a pair of performances featuring the pianist’s main working unit, the Bandwagon (with bassist Tarus Mateen, who plays on the whole record, and drummer Nasheet Waits), bringing a trademark mix of postbop fluidity and cut-and-paste rhythmic dislocation to “Lulu’s Back in Town” and a medley of “Sheik of Araby/I Found a New Baby.”
Most of the tracks feature the horn section of trumpeter Leron Thomas and trombonist Josh Roseman (the normally jagged, austere playing of saxophonist Steve Lehman turns utterly lyric if not downright sentimental on his solo in “Jitterbug Waltz,” which gets a Robert Glasper-ish R&B treatment), and while Moran takes his fair share of solos (he masterfully plays with time on his delirious solo run through “Handful of Keys”), for the most part this is a band record focusing on the Waller’s tunes as compositions designed to get butts in motion. In fact, the most notable performance by Thomas is his post-Satchmo vocal turn on “Two Sleepy People.” Below you can check out the album’s sleek, groove-heavy version of “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” with a wonderful vocal from Ndegeocello.
Cigdem Aslan, Mortissa (Asphalt Tango)
Sofia Jernberg and Lene Grenager, Crochet (Olof Bright)
Daft Punk, Random Access Memories (Columbia)
Rhonda Vincent, Destination Life (Rounder)
Saulo Duarte e a Unidade, Saulo Duarte e a Unidade (YB Music/Baritone)