ALL RISE: Jason Moran’s Joint Is Jumpin’
Jason Moran’s Joint Is Jumpin’
There were two distinct albums that caught my attention during the latter part of 2014. Celebrated pianist Jason Moran’s All Rise and D’Angelo’s Black Messiah both capture a feeling of America’s lost renaissance, struggle, triumph and introspection while celebrating the hope and optimism of the future.
All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller is much more than a tribute album. It is a mirrored reflection of the Great Depression era, in which Thomas “Fats” Waller (1904-1943) was one of the most sought after jazz musicians of that time made popular by his trademark “stride piano” style and syncopation. Although the sounds of Moran and D’Angelo are starkly different, the inherent similarities are drawn in the musical timing, premise, social themes and craftsmanship. In particular, they share a unique space due to both albums’ honest edification and suggestion of collective leadership during this time of uprising and non-atonement.
Whereas Waller was a highly influential leader of the ragtime jazz scene, he combined his Harlem stride with a blues fusion and vocal delivery that had the crowds dancing on their feet. In the 1920’s through 1940’s, it was ever so important to inspire the gyrating bodies to hit the floor, as was expected for anyone who attended a Fats Waller performance. Respectively, you could say that Fats led the people to salvation through dance. In those days, he was as much of a pop artist icon as John Legend or D’Angelo is today.
Black Messiah, however, encourages us to form a common collective theme of direct leadership through a darker, cloudier lens, as D’Angleo and The Vanguard takes us on a bluesy-funk’d up jazz trail through long tunnels of hope, despair and lovelessness, in a far less danceable fashion.
Both All Rise and Black Messiah are not only a pair of great titles to reflect and embark upon during these distressed times, but the two LP’s are exemplary works of timeless art and music and more specifically, Black music history.
Since the days of Scott Joplin and the Maple Leaf Rag introduction to ragtime music and it’s transcendence to be-bop, Waller’s influence stretches across generations of jazz pianists. Even the likes of filmmaker Michel Gondry’s 2008 comedy, Be Kind Rewind starring Mos Def and Jack Black explores the legend of Fats Waller and the watermark that remains.
Moran attests, “Fats Waller is a special kind of provocateur. 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.”
Co produced by Meshell N’Degeocello and Blue Note president Don Was, the LP features Lady Gaga’s and Kanye’s drummer Charles Haynes, Tarus Mateen on bass, Leron Thomas on trumpet, Josh Roseman on trombone along with Meshell and Lisa E. Harris on vocals.
“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. He already had arrangements and visions of how it would feel, so I just tried to add the speaking and singing aspect of the performance.”
The re-imaginations of Waller’s classics such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’”, “This Joint Is Jumpin” and “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” are tailored unconventionally, yet beautifully disrupted with a contemporary spin that only Meshell could saunter up. Ten of the twelve tracks are covers that expand Waller’s timeless influence. “Honeysuckle Rose” is a sweet-n-fly surprise featuring Lisa E. Harris on vocals that aspires to “Black folks sipping Chardonnay in the summertime” laughs Moran. All Rise picks up the pace with “Yacht Club Swing” and “Sheik of Araby” up-tempo shuffling departures that bring you back to the days of the Lindy Hop and the Savoy in Harlem, while the “Jitterbug Waltz” takes an R&B’d, slow-grooved approach to the original tune. “Two Sleepy People” includes the playful jazz vocals of Leron Thomas and ironic to the title, “Handful of Keys” happens to be the only solo piano performance by Moran on the album.
All Rise is a timely handful of colorful surprises. One song after the next, we are reminded that jazz music was once considered pop music, and Moran does that with an ease to be admired. As for the live show, it was dubbed the Fats Waller Dance Party including interpretive dancers as Moran delighted audiences by wearing a larger-than-life papier-mâché mask of Waller’s head created by Haitian artist Didier Civil.
Fats Waller died tragically in 1943 from pneumonia. “Both Meshell and I were aware in titling the album that we were flirting with both uplift and mourning”, Moran explains. “Fats was just 39 when he passed away. A son of a preacher with big appetites—alcohol, you name it. At the time, his work was being heard and getting recognized, which is every musician’s dream, but then suddenly he was just gone. I’m 39 now.”
At 39, the Texas bred Jason Moran has indeed accomplished greatness. Three years in the making, this will be his ninth album released on Blue Note Records and was recently selected to score the upcoming civil rights film, Selma, directed by Ava Duvernay scheduled to release this December in theaters nationwide.
All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller was released on September 16, 2014.