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Fats Waller Selected Hits, Vol. 5

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Album Review

This is the final volume in five reissued by the French RCA in the early '70s as both single volumes and a chunky five-LP black box. Heading toward the inevitable horror of the second World War, there are a few shake-ups in the Waller combo sidemen, but for the most part it is his familiar gang of cohorts that invigorate these tracks, guitarists John Smith and Al Casey presenting a shimmering contrast to the pianist's accompaniment, trumpeter Herman Autrey responding like a lovebug to his boss' offhand exhortations, drummer "Slick" Jones brushing the rhythm as if it were a handful of silken tresses, while Gene Sedric nibbles ears in the background on clarinet. For the final pair of tracks from 1943, you get a whole new lineup representing a new generation of players. Drummer Zutty Singleton was a classic swing man who continued laying down the law in many bands for years following these recordings, while bassist Slam Stewart became part of the Slim and Slam group who definitely carried on much in the tradition of Waller. The final track is "Ain't Misbehavin'," most likely the top of the heap in terms of famous songs by this artist and a fitting climax to a series of records containing some of the most consistently high-quality jazz of any ever recorded. The main difference between this set and previous ones in the series is the degree of refinement. The arrangements are even more subtle and detailed than previously, Waller continuing to wield a not just sonic, but theatric pallet ranging from delightfully laid-back melodic passages to rampaging rumboogie and screwball comedy. Like a slowly thickening pudding, each successive chorus brings a tune closer and closer to a boiling point. Pressings and remastering together are brilliant, meaning the listener will be able to hear every small detail in the playing. Loud, dynamic sections are captured perfectly, the overtones of the trumpeter exploding like technicolor splashes. Those looking for a sort of Waller greatest hits package might want to check this out, as several of his other most famous numbers are included along with the one already described.

Biography

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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