Acclaimed pianist Jason Moran has announced a September 16 release date for All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller, a collaboration with the vocalist Meshell Ndegeocello that recasts the music of the legendary jazz entertainer Fats Waller as a modern dance party. The album—which was produced by Ndegeocello and Blue Note Records president Don Was—is the ninth in a formidable catalog that Moran has been building on Blue Note since 1999.
“Fats Waller is a special kind of provocateur,” says Moran. “It stems mainly from the fact that he was a singer as well as a pianist. Sometimes he was like an MC. It has always amazed me that a pianist whose playing was so deep could sing and keep a running commentary of what was going on around him all at the same time.”
All Rise features Moran hosting a changeable cast of musicians that includes vocalists Ndegeocello and Lisa E. Harris, his longtime trio The Bandwagon featuring bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, and a funky horn-inflected ensemble anchored by drummer Charles Haynes that features trumpeter Leron Thomas and trombonist Josh Roseman, as well as guest saxophonist Steve Lehman. The album was recorded and mixed by Bob Power, known for honing the sound on classic hip hop records by A Tribe Called Quest, Common and The Roots.
All Rise is the studio culmination of a project that was born onstage in Harlem as the Fats Waller Dance Party. In 2011—nearly a year after Moran had been named a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “genius” fellow and around the time he was named Artistic Advisor for Jazz at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC—the NYC performing arts venue Harlem Stage Gatehouse commissioned Moran, a longtime resident of Upper Manhattan, to create a tribute to the Harlem stride master as part of its “Harlem Jazz Shrines” series.
"My wife Alicia had the idea that it should be a dance party, and I decided to jump at the task," says the Houston, Texas-reared pianist. “If you think about Fats, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines—all of them were making the popular sounds of their era: dance music. Unlike today, where jazz audiences generally remain seated, dancing was expected when Fats showed up to a gig.”
“The objective was to construct an evening-length performance in a space that lent itself to dancing,” explains Moran. “I asked myself what could be the extra layer, or the extra couple of layers, we might add to Fats' music to provide a number of different ways for audiences to enjoy it? That's when I reached out to Meshell. I wanted someone who could not only sing Fats' lyrics, but be free with them, and also a musician more accustomed than I am to dealing with a crowd that's on its feet. She was my only choice.”
From the propulsive afrobeat groove of “Yacht Club Swing” to the simmering slow jam reinvention of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business,” Moran and Ndegeocello radically recast Waller’s repertoire for our times.In concert Moran also adds a layer of performance art by donning a larger-than-life papier-mâché mask of Waller’s head created for him by the Haitian artist Didier Civil.
The same spirit of radical reinvention can be found on Ndegeocello’s 2012 dedication to Nina Simone, Pour une âme souveraine, and her presence on All Rise guaranteed that the album would be infused with the contemporary kineticism of R&B and hip-hop. “I suggested the drummer, Charles Haynes,” Ndegeocello remembers, “because he has facility and his pocket is one you cannot hear and stand still. The dance aspect of what Jason proposed really excited me.”
The track listing for All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller is as follows:
1.Put Your Hands On It
3.Yacht Club Swing
4.Lulu’s Back In Town
5.Two Sleepy People
6.The Joint Is Jumpin’
8.Ain't Nobody's Business
10.Handful Of Keys
11.Jitterbug Waltz12.Sheik Of Araby / I Found a New Baby