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Reviewers: Don Mather, Dick Stafford, Marc Bridle, John Eyles, Ian Lace, Colin Clarke

Fats Waller doesn't sing!

Recorded 1927-43
NI 2019 [72.43]

Here are 23 generous tracks of the literally unsung Fats Waller, though many famous numbers feature here, and it's a follow-up to Nimbus's earlier NI 2017 on which he sings much. The irrepressible Fats cannot restrain the odd whoop or sign-off in the way only he knows how, and it's hard to believe in his restraint in not bursting forth in his classic rendition of 'Sweet Heartache', especially where the words "shake and tremble" feature in the original. It's good to be able to focus solely on the remarkable keyboard talents of the man, whether on piano, Hammond organ, pipe organ, or celesta.

He always had brilliant colleagues and many of them feature here such as Gene "Honey Bear" Sedric (reeds), Slick Jones (drums - listen to his break on track 18, 'Blue, turning grey over you'), Herman Autrey (trumpet), and Al Casey (guitar). There are some tracks featuring Fats with Big Band, also a filmtrack ('Moppin' and Boppin'' from 'Stormy Weather'), but generally he's at his best with his smaller group which went under the name of Fats Waller and his Rhythm. The Earl Hines number 'Rosetta' with Waller's deliciously subtle celeste playing is a gem. Waller was at ease with direct-to-disc recording techniques, even though he was generally suffering from a mighty hangover, and three tracks are transfers from 12" 78rpm discs and longer than the standard 10" of the day, giving us a four-minute fatter Fats.

Imagine the reaction of someone wandering off the street one lunch hour into Trinity Church, Camden, New Jersey on 16 February 1927, in expectation of perhaps hearing the organist practising his voluntary for the following Sunday, but instead catching an irreverent Fats playing 'Stompin' the Bug' (track 13) or a month earlier, being skittishly nimble on manuals and pedals in the witty 'Messin' around with the Blues' (track 19). Wonderful clean playing from which many an organist today could learn a thing or two and there's a surprising ending too!

Another pair of cds which came my way recently, boxed by Gallerie in 1997 as 'A Portrait of Fats Waller' (GALE 412) has a generous 48 tracks of the great man, but the genius of Fats Waller the keyboard player is also well worth the outlay for this Nimbus offering.

Christopher Fifield

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