Art, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, and Jason Moran's Artist In Residence is no exception. An enigmatic traditionalist, Moran has produced releases that are as diverse as his reinterpretation the blues on Same Mother (Blue Note, 2005) or his conceptualization of the soundtrack of daily life on his debut, Soundtrack to Human Motion (Blue Note, 1999). With this ambitious seventh recording, he again brings fertile ideas to fruition with pieces resulting from recent commissions he accepted from three art institutes: the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Dia Art Foundation and Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Like a whiz kid in an intellectual playpen, Moran explores an assortment of artistic liberties, including the hip-hop-inspired "Break Down with his Bandwagon group (alongside drummer Nasheet Waits, bassist Taurus Mateen and guitarist Marvin Sewell), mixing a jazz groove with a sampled voice loop of conceptual artist Adrian Piper. The structured discipline of the theatrical piece "Milestone features the beautiful classically trained voice of Moran's wife, Alicia Hall Moran, whereas on the eclectic solo piece "Artist Ought to Be Writing, Moran's piano mimics a voice excerpt of Piper's dissertation on modern art.
The challenge for the listener may lie in interpreting Moran's varied works, but in no way does this detract from his ability and creativity. "Refraction 2 and "Refraction 1 were taken from a multimedia performance piece; the former features a full band and the latter finds Moran in duet with video/performance artist Joan Jonas, producing strange percussion sounds. It would have been interesting to see as well as hear this performance to fully appreciate its meaning.
This music ranges from the western borders of "Arizona Landscape, where Moran plays a tranquil solo, to the haunting and expanding sextet piece RAIN, inspired by an African slavery "ring shout, with guests Ralph Alessi (trumpet) and Abdou M'Boup (percussion). This music is art that can be interpreted on multiple levels, depending upon one's background. Compared to Moran's earlier works, Artist In Residence may be more or less accepted by the mainstream, but fans familiar with his prodigious exploits should find more than enough here to satisfy them until his next release.
Track Listing: Break Down; Milestone; Refraction 2; Cradle Song; Artists Ought to Be Writing; Refraction 1; Arizona Landscape; RAIN; Lift Every Voice; He Puts On His Coat And Leaves.
Personnel: Jason Moran: piano; Marvin Sewell: guitar (1-3,8-9); Tarus Mateen: bass (1-3,8-9); Nasheet Waits: (1-3,8-9); Alicia Hall Moran: vocals (2); Adrian Piper: sampled voice (1,5); Joan Jonas: percussion (6); Abdou Mboup: djembe, kora, talking drum (8); Ralph Alessi: trumpet (8).