Mark Lewandowski - double bass
Liam Noble - piano
Paul Clarvis - drums
Recorded at The Vortex, London (Nov, 2016)
Recorded & Mixed by Alex Bonney (London)
Mastered by Peter Beckmann (London)
Produced by Mark Lewandowski
Assistant Producers -
Paul Clarvis, Liam Noble
Executive Producer - Michael Janisch
Original artwork & design by Joseph Bisat Marshall
released April 7, 2017
ABOUT THE ALBUM
Thomas Wright ‘Fats’ Waller was a true entertainer; a New York trailblazer of his time (1920s to early 1940s), turning out hundreds of songs including those which would become established standards, such as ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’, ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ and ‘Jitterbug Waltz’. A jocular, larger-than-life character, his Harlem stride piano and gritty voice were key to a distinctive sound which would inform the jazz of subsequent generations, with solid showtime melodies ensuring its longevity.
Strongly maintaining the integrity of Fats Waller’s music while looking afresh at its present-day possibilities, English double bassist Mark Lewandowski embarked on this concept with clear intent: “I wanted to approach it with respect. Fats’ music is frequently loud, exuberant, even obnoxious at times, as well as wistful and elegant; so I really wanted to strip it down – and, with that in mind, I automatically thought of Liam Noble and Paul Clarvis (their 2009 duo album, Starry Starry Night, has long been a great inspiration to me). As a drummer, Paul demonstrates such great poise and economy, using only brushes throughout the whole of what was a particularly relaxed recording session, whilst Liam’s playful, unpredictability at the piano is perfect for this” (he has skilfully reworked the music of many artists, including Dave Brubeck, Bud Powell… even Elgar). “For the three of us, the experience of improvising so conversationally and intimately felt remarkably equal, and became more of an ongoing commentary rather than a straightforward reinterpretation. Nothing was fixed, the shackles were removed – so I loved the spontaneity and the vulnerability, as well as Liam’s and Paul’s wry take on things.”
With authentically-sampled historical introductions occasionally reinforcing the context, Waller’s eleven tracks unfold organically from the slenderest of wireframes. As Lewandowski says: “Fats would never have written any of those things down; if he composed a new tune, he’d go over to them and play it from the piano.” A similar approach here affords each of the musicians the freedom to respond in their own way while also intertwining their various strands of ideas, so ‘Lulu’s Back in Town’ emerges and then reappears from the trio’s enthusiastically percussive ‘chat’. ‘I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead… Suzannah!!’ fuses together two Fats originals, its countrified bass phrasing sparingly embellished by Clarvis’ irregular snare patterns before Noble runs headlong into it with characteristically oblique swing. Another astute pairing results in ‘It’s a Sin to Write a Letter’, followed by Lewandowski’s animated bass solo ‘Have a Little Dream on Me’; and ‘Blue Because of You’ quicksteps to dashing bass and shuffling brushes as Noble shrugs off its melancholy origins.
Flirtatious favourites ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ and ‘Honeysuckle Rose’ are typically mischievous, nay impetuous, with each player lying in wait to jump off the others’ ideas; ‘Jitterbug Waltz’s familiar descending phrases are avidly seized upon by the ever-inventive imaginings of Noble; and both ‘Cinders’ and ‘Fair and Square in Love’ are deliciously and mesmerisingly held back, the latter hinting at a cool Motown ballad vibe towards its close.
Mark Lewandowski’s final, sung/whistled track – ‘Surprise Ending’ (Jelly Roll Morton’s resigned ‘Why’) – whimsically nods to Waller’s personable, socially-relevant reflections on the mundanity of life, as well as his popular showmanship from the piano. It might even offer a glimpse of future spin-off projects: “We’ve all studied early jazz alongside our more contemporary projects, and everything I do is very heavily informed by the Black-American tradition – it’s how I first fell in love with this music. So it’s been a great way to focus on Fats’ output; and I can even envisage some continuity in us exploring other historical artists in the same way. You can’t hide behind this music, so we wanted it to be as honest as possible, based on our own instincts. We’re using our collective influences of the past to inform how we improvise as contemporary musicians – and I hope, for listeners, it’ll be a gateway to the wider, colorful world of Fats Waller.”
"Occasional clips from old Waller recordings, free-improv probings, flat-out swing, glimpses of Thelonious Monk, and dark, spacey mood pieces... Lewandowski’s vocal on Waller’s Why, delivered like a callow Chet Baker, leavens the eccentric mastery of this delightful session."
★★★★ The Guardian
"The interaction between the trio is a delight... A successful attempt to stake a place in this well-worked tradition."
"A robustly attractive album... We'll be hearing a lot more from this talented bassist in the future."
All About Jazz
"Three musicians, closer to the cutting edge of jazz, have successfully brought Fats Waller’s 1930’s classics into the 20th century... An absolutely delightful album."
Bebop Spoken Here
"Both modern and respectful, placing Waller firmly in the jazz lineage."
"Every track is a musical gem."
★★★★★ UK Vibe
"This thoroughly modern trio never lose sight of the playful, hard-swinging and hard-living personality that lay at the heart of all Waller’s music."
"Familiar melodies are given a new lease of life as if they were being heard and appreciated for the first time... A most absorbing and well thought through album."
Sandy Brown Jazz
“A splendid interpretation full of vigor and originality.”
"A fresh and free interpretation of Waller's work from these gifted musicians."
Written in Music (NL)