Mark Lewandowski - Waller
(Whirlwind. WR4703. CD Review by Patrick Hadfield)
Bassist Mark Lewandowski recorded this CD of fourteen tunes associated with Fats Waller with Liam Noble on piano and Paul Clarvis on drums at the Vortex in London, during the daytime, using the venue without an audience as their studio. That connection with a live performance space is a good way to recall Fats Waller's enduring influence - he was after all the complete performer.
Lewandowski tells us that the project grew out of a single gig at Kansas Smitty’s. He remembers being so happy with the results of that first gig when he listened back to a recording of it, he knew wanted to record the music, and keep the project going. (Details of tour dates below.)
The trio concentrate on Waller's composing, with only one vocal track – Jelly Roll Morton's Why, renamed Surprise Ending on this occasion. This was Lewandowski's way of dealing with a wish coming from his fellow band members to represent the fact that Waller was a singer - while not actually having the effrontery to perform one of Waller's own songs. Anyway, with that exception, it does leave the trio to focus on the music, calling on their skill as improvisers to interpret the tunes.
The result is both modern and respectful, placing Waller firmly in the jazz lineage. Hearing tunes most often played in a traditional setting reinterpreted with modern emphasis sheds new light on the compositions.
They are equally at home playing fast or slow, sometimes both within the same piece: mashing together two tunes to create I'll Be Glad When You're Dead... Suzannah!!, it opens with a funereal bass solo from Lewandowski, which gradually speeds up before Noble comes crashing in at double time.
The slow numbers are particularly effective. Jitterbug Waltz has a lyrical bounce to it that makes one want to dance. Fair & Square... In Love, another two tunes mashed together, is taken heartbreakingly slow, becoming a beautiful romantic ballad.
Liam Noble is now established as one of Britain's foremost pianists. His inventive playing on a short Honeysuckle Rose places Waller as a forebear of Monk, his influence extending on to today's improvisers, too. This is shown on Lulu's Back In Town, putting the Waller stride into a modern context.
Lewandowski and Clarvis are exemplary, too. Clarvis, largely using brushes, plays with great subtlety, at times barely hinting at the rhythms. Lewandowski at times also approaches a minimal style: on Fair & Square... In Love he uses as few notes as possible, to maximum effect. His solo rendition of Have A Little Dream On Me shows off his imaginative improvising.
But Waller's compositions are the real stars of this collection, allowing the three musicians to jump off to explore their depths.
Patrick Hadfield lives in Edinburgh, occasionally takes photographs, and sometimes blogs at On the Beat. Twitter: @patrickhadfield.
Mark Lewandowski, Liam Noble and Paul Clarvis are touring throughout May, including the album launch at the Vortex on May 19 - DETAILS.