Respectful, modern nod to Fats Waller
The go-to track on “All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller,” for those who prize Waller as a virtuoso of Harlem stride piano, is “Handful of Keys,” a signature showpiece played in the same solo format and with much of the same flair. Jason Moran, the pianist on deck, is a stride enthusiast, though he doesn’t try to mimic the steady bounce of Waller’s left hand. His performance is a respectful but contemporary nod.
Of course Moran has other ideas, starting with the core of Waller’s significance – not as a paragon of historical jazz style but as a larger-than-life entertainer and cultural hero. “All Rise” could be seen as a reclamation of Waller’s legacy, in that Moran means this music for dancing.
Moran’s partner in this project is Meshell Ndegeocello, who lends coolly ethereal vocals to several tracks, and who produced the album with Don Was. Singing in bustling tandem with Lisa E. Harris, Ndegeocello helps give “This Joint Is Jumpin’” a jittery funk makeover, and turns “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” into a dark-magic incantation. On “Ain’t Misbehavin’” the two, following the contour of Moran’s arrangement, work and rework the phrase “for you,” as if part of a live-action remix.
That structural device, which has worked for Moran before, fits naturally here. His stutter-step phrasing during parts of “Lulu’s Back in Town” and “Sheik of Araby,” executed with his longtime trio, the Bandwagon, give the unmistakable impression of a DJ’s cuts.