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November 4, 2010 5:03 pm
The first of Jason Moran’s two sets opened with a pre-recorded scratchy sound collage that sounded like someone twiddling an off-beam radio dial. The snippets of philosophy, vintage broadcasts and blues history proved to be a statement of purpose and intent, a mix of high art references, forward-thinking jazz and a street-savvy relish for new technology. As the introductory tape faded, the trio swirled into the elliptic pulse and downward glide of “Blue Blocks”.
Moran and his trio are currently celebrating a decade as a working unit – both sets featured material from their 10th album Ten – and have the intuitive rapport to change direction with whisker-fine precision. Their staple is an intense three-way dialogue with bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits poised midway between solo and mutual support. While Moran eddies and jangles percussively into the upper register – he has his own voice on both acoustic and electric piano – Mateen fires off counterpoints of striking clarity, buoyed by brittle and broken rolls from the snare.
This roots-referenced dialogue emerges from a kaleidoscope of samples that are both platform and contrast. There was Andrew Hill – a primary influence – playing with his trio; feedback from Jimi Hendrix; and the recorded voice of a woman singing while making a patchwork quilt, all transformed into melodic statement or rhythmic pulse.
Twice, and less successfully, Moran let whole tunes play – the 1980s dance hit “Ice Cream Castles”; Eddie Jefferson singing his lyrics to Coleman Hawkins’ renowned saxophone solo on “Body and Soul” – sporadically playing inside or whistling along before selecting a fragment for detailed examination.
The first set included the spacious, bittersweet ballad “Pas de Deux”, a commission for Lines Ballet, and “RFK in the Land of Apartheid”, the nagging bass line and venomous piano full of controlled outrage and fight. Both sets ended on a high. Thelonious Monk’s “Crepuscule with Nellie”, lovingly dismembered and laced with blues history, got to the composition’s essence to conclude the first; rounding off the second were flawless runs, off-kilter stride and the occasional staggered beat – a rich tribute to Moran’s teacher, the pianist Jaki Byard. (
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