At one point there were a half-dozen women from the audience were dancing with the two professional dancers who were part of the show. A couple of little kids were also playing along on a tambourine and mariachis. Punctuating all this movement was pianist Jason Moran wearing a huge paper-mache mask of Fats Waller with a big grin and sleepy eyes. It was without a doubt one of the most memorable straight-ahead jazz shows I’ve ever attended.
The only downside to the Fats Waller mask was that I never did clearly hear the names of the band members, and only later learned the line-up included bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Charles Haynes. A bit of a surprise was the appearance of a dancer, who’s first appearance left me a bit confused since she, and later a second dancer didn’t seem to be dancing in sync with the music.
Only when she reappeared during a song featuring just Moran on piano and his drummer did I finally understand what she was doing. During a particularly aggressive drum solo, the woman began to move in a way that made it obvious she was playing her body like a musical instrument. The interaction between the dancer and the drummer was a sight to behold.
About half the songs featured vocals by Lisa Harris, plus a number where Leron Thomas set aside his trumpet and sang a deep, barrel-chested blues. One of the many magical moments during this show, again at the Carver, was the amazing arrangement of old standards that were, for all intent and purposes, unrecognizable. The music was terrific, the playing energetic and the show full of fun.
As I’ve complained in the past about the lack of showmanship typical of “serious” jazz performances, Moran’s playful vibe was a delight. Just before the encore started Jim turned to me and said, “This is the best show we’ve seen.” Agreed – and a great model for making jazz come alive.