Jason Moran ‘All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller’ (Blue Note/Decca) 4/5

jason-moranPianist Jason Moran has made a reputation both as a leader and sideman, but he enters new territory on this thoroughly modern update on the canon of work by Fats Waller. The genesis for this project was Moran becoming artistic director at the Jazz at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. While occupying this function, Moran received an artistic command by New York arts venue the Harlem Stage Gatehouse to create a tribute to master of the stride piano, Fats Waller. In order to achieve this objective, Moran has enlisted his regular trio of bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits as well as an additional horn section. However, the more contemporary R & B groove flavour is supplied by both producer and singer Meshell Ndegeocello who recorded her own modernised homage to Nina Simone in 2012. Vocal duties are generally shared between Ndegeocello and singer Lisa E. Harris. It should be self-evident by now that strictly speaking this is not a jazz album per se, though Moran does afford himself some soloing as the album progresses. Moran and Ndegeocello have clearly spent a great deal of time reflecting on how to adapt these famous tunes to a contemporary setting and on the uptempo staccato beat of ‘Yacht Club Swing’ this works a treat with the leader extending out on electric piano. One of the more successful transpositions is of ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ that has a blues accompaniment on piano and some tasty horns whereas the more sedate interpretation of ‘Ain’t nobody’s business’ with gentle female lead by Harris sounds a little artificial and even odd. The nearest Moran comes to his usual sound is on the excellent solo piano of ‘Lulu’s back in town’. A gentle electric piano and male vocal on ‘Two sleepy people’ helps create an intimate setting and the number builds up into a mid-tempo groove complete with horns. As a fascinating aside to the project, Jason Moran recorded this project at the age of thirty-nine, precisely the same age at which Fats Waller prematurely departed this world. In live performance Jason Moran adopts a papier mâché mask of Waller’s head complete with bowler hat created especially for the pianist by Haitian artist Didier Civil.

Tim Stenhouse