It is December 1937, Fats Waller has landed in Hollywood. Five musicians have been rounded up to form a sort of West Coast rhythm band. Waller plays the introduction to a pretty love song, one with enough merit that he will savor its nuances rather than ripping it to shreds. The very title, "Am I in Another World?," obviously appeals to the pianist's poetic sensibilities, and he handles the melody gently as the tune unfolds. Then, it happens. Ceele Burke moves his hands over the strings of a steel guitar, lazily sending ripples up through the simple structure of the song. Among hundreds of three-minute Fats Waller recordings, these are the only ones that feature steel guitar. "Why Do Hawaiians Sing Aloha?" is very funny and it gives Burke a chance to swing a little harder with his axe. After "turning the band loose" Waller scats up a bit of his own imitation "Hawaiian" dialect for a weird coda. Back in New York three months later, he remounts the Victor treadmill to grind out six more sides in the company of his regular working band. "I Love to Whistle" is outrageous enough to work well for Waller, and he finds ways to turn "You Went to My Head" and "Don't Try to Cry Your Way Back to Me" into entertaining performances that swing deliciously. Now it is April 12, 1938. Fats Waller & His Rhythm has been augmented by his orchestra. There are three trumpets, two trombones, five saxophones and the rhythm section. Fats always said that he preferred a smaller band on account of the fact that 12 pieces need to follow a chart and "this lacks a certain spontaneity, if you get what I mean." But here in the dismal post-modern landscape of the 21st century we should be grateful that Waller made more than just a few big band recordings. The dynamic works remarkably well: Fats roars at the band, they roar back at him. In the case of a beautiful instrumental like "In the Gloaming," this ensemble created a marvelous piece of work that will never tarnish or fade. "You Had an Evening to Spare" is surprisingly attractive and well-written. Waller brings out the best in each song. Too bad we don't get to hear the alternate take of "I Simply Adore You" where Fats sings "let me love you forever" in shrill imitation of a white pop vocalist. Duke Ellington's "Skrontch" was a natural choice for this band, and Fats does it up royally. "The Sheik of Araby" and "Hold My Hand" are both very exciting. If the band seems lightly tethered by its arrangements, Waller more than compensates with his inexhaustible supply of spontaneity. The small group recordings made on July 1, 1938 are suffused with this same refreshing energy. "There's Honey on the Moon Tonight" is gleefully romantic. "Wide Open Spaces" refers to New York nightclubs that apparently never close. This song served as a much-needed hedonistic rebuttal for hundreds of wholesome Tin Pan Alley cowboy songs. Fats looks forward to "getting high-oh -- silver off my chest," bluntly makes a reference to getting "high as a kite" and closes the song by addressing an imaginary bartender: "Tony? Fix me another one!"
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf