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Jason Moran’s ‘Fats Waller Dance Party’ reclaims multitalented musician

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Monday April 07, 2014

The Boston Globe

Jason Moran’s ‘Fats Waller Dance Party’ reclaims multitalented musician
By Jon Garelick

Twenty-five minutes into pianist and composer Jason Moran’s “Fats Waller Dance Party” at Berklee Performance Center Friday night, singer Meshell Ndegeocello explained that this was beautiful music meant to be taken into the body, a physical thing, urging the audience (in vain) to get up and dance.

In fact, the show worked on a number of levels, both physical and intellectual. Fats Waller (1904-1943) was a popular singer, hit songwriter, and jazz pianist. Moran, 39 (as he pointed out, Waller’s age when he died) first presented this show in 2011 in New York as a commission from Harlem Stage. It featured dancers and singers as well as a giant Fats Waller mask worn by Moran.

At the Celebrity Series show at Berklee, the band was joined by three dancers who emerged from time to time to work gamely across the cramped stage. And Moran did wear that mask.

Moran established his method with the first song. The band (with vocalists Ndegeocello and Lisa E. Harris) picked up the last phrase of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” — “For you” —repeating it, as Waller did in his original recording. It became a vamp, a rhythmic germ for the band’s hip-hop beat (laid down beautifully all night by Tarus Mateen on electric bass and drummer Charles Haynes.)

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