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Jason Moran throws a dance party for Fats Waller

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Wednesday April 02, 2014

From The Boston Globe

Jason Moran throws a dance party for Fats Waller
By Siddhartha Mitter

The party gets real when the mask goes on.

At some point in the “Fats Waller Dance Party,’’ a rambunctious performance concocted by pianist Jason Moran — once the stride-piano swing and prewar show tunes have started to fragment into hip-hop incantations and deep-house grooves — the huge papier-mâché mask of Waller, with a mischievous grin, a fedora, and dangling cigarette, moves off the top of the piano and onto Moran’s head.

As the ace band and the soul singer/bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, Moran’s creative partner in this wild tribute to a foundational jazz figure, explode “The Joint Is Jumpin’ ” or “Jitterbug Waltz” into kinetic filaments of sound, dancers — some professional, others pulled up from the audience — fill the stage. Moran drives at the keyboard like a crazy Fats Waller bobblehead, fully inhabiting the persona.

The “Fats Waller Dance Party,’’ a commission of Harlem Stage in New York that has turned into a touring project, comes to the Berklee Performance Center Friday. For Moran, a leading jazz pianist and composer, MacArthur fellowship recipient, and artistic adviser at the Kennedy Center, getting inside Waller’s head — in the form of the mask, a rendering by the Haitian artist Didier Civil — is as dead serious as it is joyously silly.

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