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Fats Waller Selected Hits Vol. 3

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Album Review

For these two years in the mid-'30s, Fats Waller seemed to do no wrong in a combo setting, if this volume from the extensive French RCA reissue series is evidence. These are invigorating performances of small-group classic swing in which the pinnacle of jazz perfection is approached by two parallel assault teams. One is the one-man wonder of Fats Waller. In "I'm on a See Saw," he opens things up with some strange piano ruminations that come close to being like a Salvador Dali painting come to life, an extremely dissonant bass piano figure eventually merging from surreal to real as a metaphor for hitting rock bottom on the seesaw of love. The muttered asides, many of them extremely strange, have often been described as a methodology which allows this artist to rise above mundane lyrical content. That he doesn't really need a band is proved above all by the break on "I Got Rhythm," in which an entire big band lays out for his piano solo and there is absolutely no loss in momentum. Yet there is much to be said in favor of what happens when he performs in the small group setting which makes up the other force to be reckoned with on these sides. The band, with Waller in his element as a key part of the rhythm section, masters every kind of groove they want to take on from lazily drifting love songs to hectic, fast-tempo swing. Drummer Arnold Bolden is present on just about every tune, and his brushwork is terrific. Familiar faces from Waller's various bands step forward to take horn solos, including the industrious mute work of trumpeter Herman Autrey, snarling clarinetist Rudy Powell on the earlier sides, and the superbly melodic Gene Sedric taking over on clarinet and tenor sax for the 1936 material. Guitarist Al Casey takes several beautiful solos in his chording style and also can be heard to good advantage playing swinging accompaniment, often while the pianist lays out and does who knows what. Standing out amongst the small-combo dates is the previously mentioned "I Got Rhythm," in which not only nine extra horns are added in, but there are actually two piano players as well. This is a great album, but it also must be emphasized that some of the performances also seem extremely casual. A clarinetist may sound like he is playing through the lead sheet for the first time, or the guitarist will chord a few bum notes. Waller himself veers between playing the songs and taking part in some kind of performance art venture. Few existing recordings offer such an astounding balance between the sublime and ridiculous. You have Fats Waller to thank for this, and to him it was all in a day's work.


Born: 21 May 1904 in New York, NY

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '20s, '30s, '40s

Not only was Fats Waller one of the greatest pianists jazz has ever known, he was also one of its most exuberantly funny entertainers -- and as so often happens, one facet tends to obscure the other. His extraordinarily light and flexible touch belied his ample physical girth; he could swing as hard as any pianist alive or dead in his classic James P. Johnson-derived stride manner, with a powerful left hand delivering the octaves and tenths in a tireless, rapid, seamless stream. Waller also pioneered...
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